Lose two, win three: the pattern changes for The Citadel’s hoops squad

I was starting to think the season was going to take a serious turn for the worse after the Bulldogs went 0-2 on the Georgia Southern/Davidson road swing, blowing sizable leads in both games.  The loss in Statesboro was the nadir of the 2009-10 campaign, with the number 21 figuring prominently — a 21-point lead blown, thanks mostly to 21 turnovers (on only 66 possessions — yikes) and 21 fouls.  GSU took advantage of all the fouling, hitting a staggering 27 of its 28 free throw attempts.

(The Bulldogs also had 21 rebounds in that game.  Really, after the game somebody from The Citadel should have caught a plane to Vegas and started playing blackjack.)

If that loss didn’t all but eliminate any chance of The Citadel garnering a first-round bye in the Southern Conference tournament, the tough OT setback to the Wildcats almost surely did.  Despite blowing another early lead, this wasn’t as bad an effort by the Bulldogs.  Ultimately, The Citadel didn’t shoot well enough to win the game (39% from the field, including 27% from beyond the arc).  The Bulldogs did a much better job protecting the basketball (nine turnovers) but could not overcome Davidson’s rebounding advantage (including 11 offensive boards).  To beat a good team on the road, The Citadel needed a few more good things to happen.

The team could have folded at that point.  It didn’t, though.  The day after the Davidson game, Ed Conroy made a series of Tweets.  Tying them together, they read like this:

Tough trip home. Our guys really take losses hard which is why they always bounce back. Love this group. We really competed – great game.


Our job as coaches is to get prepared for practice because these guys will be focused on getting better tomorrow. They are determined and resilient. I can’t wait to get back and clip this film so we can show our guys what we need to improve on. Wells and Urbanus will have everyone ready to focus tomorrow. That’s all you can ask! Really thankful I don’t have to worry about that. Go Dogs!

Well, they were as good as his word when it came to being resilient.  In the next game, against Samford, The Citadel trailed by 11 points with a little over 10 minutes remaining.  11 points is a lot to make up for a team like The Citadel, especially when playing Samford, a team that likes to operate at an even slower pace than the cadets.

Samford, like all SoCon teams, was determined to stop Cameron Wells, and it succeeded in holding him to 8 points.  However, for the first time in a while, Wells’ teammates picked up the scoring slack.  Austin Dahn and Harrison DuPont combined for 28 points, and freshman Ben Cherry hit three big three-pointers.  The Citadel came back and won.

For the first time all season the Bulldogs claimed victory in a game despite committing more turnovers than the opposition.  I think that can be at least partly attributed to the more balanced scoring (and better shooting).  With more than one player able to contribute offensively, it could be argued that the team’s margin of error is not quite so small.

The Citadel followed that up with another home victory, a deserved triumph over UT-Chattanooga, the first time the Bulldogs had beaten the Mocs on the hardwood since 2002.  Of course, The Citadel would have won the earlier matchup in Chattanooga if not for a miracle shot by Keegan Bell.  Bell had no magic on demand in this game, however, putting up a goose egg in the scoring column despite playing 31 minutes.

On the other hand, Mocs forward Ridge McKeither, who had missed the first game against the Bulldogs, finished with 13 points and 18 rebounds, and probably should have been the focus of the UTC offense more often.  Instead the Mocs hoisted up 35 three-pointers, making just 8 of them.  UTC also struggled from the charity stripe (10-20) and committed five more turnovers than the Bulldogs.

UTC did outrebound The Citadel 41-31, but the poor outside shooting (for which The Citadel’s perimeter defense should take a great deal of credit) doomed the Mocs. Meanwhile, Zach Urbanus, who has historically enjoyed shooting three-pointers against UTC — he had 7 threes in a game against the Mocs as a freshman — scored 24 points, thanks mostly to, yes, 7 made three-pointers.

Austin Dahn also had a good game, making three shots from beyond the arc, dishing out four assists, and not committing a turnover in 32 minutes of action.  Then there was the emergence of a new force for the Bulldogs…The Bo Holston Experience.

Holston, a 6’4″ sophomore from Olney, Maryland, had his career game (so far) against UT-Chattanooga, grabbing nine rebounds, including five critical offensive boards, to go along with 7 points and one memorable steal.  Late in the game, with The Citadel unaccountably struggling to hold onto the ball, Holston turned the ball over on a bad pass in the paint.  UTC raced up the court with the basketball, looking to break for an easy hoop — only to have Holston run down the ballhandler and take it right back.  That was basically the game-ending play.

Before that game Holston had appeared in 13 games for the Bulldogs, scoring a total of 18 points.  Against UTC, though, he suddenly morphed into The Bo Holston Experience, an unexpected natural phenomenon not easily explained.  His hustle and spirited play helped offset (along with the efforts of Dahn and Urbanus) another tough shooting night for Wells, who was 1-10 from the floor.  For a second consecutive game, the Bulldogs survived a less-than-stellar offensive outing from their best player.

(They also survived some sketchy officiating, as it was another Saturday night in the SoCon.  For a while, Cosmo Morabbi looked more like Vito Anterfuermo than a basketball player, but no autopsy, no foul.)

The Citadel hadn’t won three straight games all season until Monday night’s satisfying win over the College of Charleston.  With that win, the Bulldogs remain undefeated at Carolina First Arena.  The Citadel is 2-0 in the building, as opposed to, say, UNC, which is winless in the facility (after losing in OT to the CofC earlier this season).

Incidentally, next year The Citadel is scheduled to play four games at Carolina First Arena, one against the Cougars and three others as part of the Charleston Classic.  It’s nice to know the Bulldogs are comfortable playing there.

As for the game on Monday night, The Citadel against took advantage of a team having a cold shooting night from three-point land, as the Cougars were 6-23 from beyond the arc.  The Bulldogs’ excellent perimeter D harassed CofC star Andrew Goudelock into a 1-8 shooting night from outside.  The Cougars, like UTC, seemed unwilling to pound the ball inside as often as might have been expected, although Bryan Streeter probably deserves credit for solid post defense (notably his positioning).

Wells scored 15 points in this game, not quite at his scoring average, but he did have five assists.  Urbanus’ two huge three-pointers in crunch time provided the Bulldogs with a little breathing room, and DuPont and Holston had a combined line of 39 minutes, 23 points (on 10-18 shooting), 10 rebounds and only 2 turnovers.  That works.

One thing about Cameron Wells:  maybe he hasn’t been putting as many points on the board as usual, but he’s still a major offensive force, as other teams focus on him at the risk of letting other Bulldogs get good looks.  In the last three games, the other players for The Citadel have taken advantage of those opportunities, many of them directly provided by Wells, who in those three outings has 19 assists (against only 5 turnovers).

As I noted earlier, I think the losses to GSU and Davidson probably mean that The Citadel has little to no chance of a first-round SoCon tourney bye.  However, the last three games have given hope that perhaps the team could arrive in Charlotte with a good deal of momentum.  Besides, the bye last year didn’t exactly help the Bulldogs much.  (I would still want it, of course.  It’s easier to win three games in three nights than four games in four nights.)

The Citadel has a chance of having a winning season, both overall and in SoCon play, both of which would be fine accomplishments, given the history of the program.  Only twice in the last 45 years has The Citadel enjoyed consecutive winning seasons.

Also, over the last two years the Bulldogs have won 33 games (with a number of games remaining this season, obviously).  Only once in school history has The Citadel won more games over a two year-span — 1979-80, when the Bulldogs won 34 games.

After playing three games in five days, The Citadel has some time off, playing just one game in the next ten days.  That will come Saturday at Elon.  The Phoenix are only 6-17 but are improving as the season goes along, and have two straight league wins as proof, having won on the road at Furman and at home against Western Carolina. Elon also has a win over UT-Chattanooga.  Last season The Citadel lost a tough game at Elon, 56-54, before gaining a season split at McAlister Field House (60-58).

As for this season’s Phoenix squad, it’s not a good shooting team (10th in the league in FG%, next-to-last in 3FG% and FT%).  Elon plays a slightly more uptempo game than does The Citadel, although that’s true of every team in the SoCon except Samford.  The Phoenix do a reasonable job of protecting the basketball, but are not a particularly strong defensive outfit (and like the Bulldogs, do not have good rebounding stats).

In the win over Furman, 6’2″ guard T.J. Douglas had 21 points and 13 (!) rebounds. Douglas likes to shoot from outside, as he has 123 three-point attempts this season, but only 10 trips to the free throw line.  Another guy not afraid to shoot from beyond the arc is Drew Spradlin, who had 14 points against the Paladins, and led the Phoenix with 16 against WCU.  In that game, five Elon players scored in double figures.

The Citadel should have the confidence to go on the road and get a win, but it won’t be easy.  Then again, it never is.

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