Hoops update: The Citadel returns home to host Clemson

The Citadel vs. Clemson, 7:00 pm Wednesday, November 16, 2011, at McAlister Field House. The contest will be broadcast on the ESPN3.com platform, with Darren Goldwater calling the game alongside analyst Dean Keener. The game can also be heard on WQNT-AM 1450 in Charleston, with “voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed describing the action. That audio is also available online via Bulldog Insider.

The Citadel opened the 2011-12 campaign by splitting a pair of games at the All-Military Classic in Colorado Springs. The Bulldogs lost 103-100 to VMI in their opener before coming back from 20 points down in the first half to defeat Army, 83-72.

The two games were essentially played on the same day, at least if you were on Eastern Standard Time, which to me made the comeback against the Bulldogs of the Hudson that much more impressive. Army is not a good team (projected to finish last in the Patriot League), but any D-1 win at this point of the season with a squad as young as The Citadel’s has to qualify as a good win.

The Bulldogs had a chance to win both games, but could not overcome a bad start against VMI. The Keydets led by as many as 16 points in the first half before The Citadel made a run to cut the lead to two. VMI scored two late baskets to take a six-point lead into the break, and continued to increase its lead throughout the second half, actually leading 98-83 with less than four minutes to play. A furious rally by the Bulldogs fell just short.

Obviously, The Citadel needs to avoid falling behind by so many points early in the game. While the Bulldogs were able to rally past Army, that’s not something they will be able to do on a regular basis.

The game against VMI was televised by CBS Sports Network, with Roger Twibell calling the game alongside analyst Pete Gillen. In the first half, Lefty Driesell joined them via telephone for a five-minute interview segment.

Listening to Pete Gillen have a conversation with Lefty Driesell gave me a renewed appreciation of the versatility of the English language.

The star for the Bulldogs over the two games was, not surprisingly, Mike Groselle, who was named the Southern Conference Player of the Week for his efforts. His totals were great, and perhaps even more promising going forward, Groselle played 68 minutes over the two games. Considering that was at altitude, over a period of less than 24 hours, and that 37 of those minutes came against VMI and its racehorse style of play, any questions about his conditioning and general endurance have been answered.

Tangent: In its game release, The Citadel listed players who had three or more consecutive double-doubles (Groselle has now had three straight such games on two different occasions). I am surprised not to see Gary Daniels’ name on this list. I would have thought he had probably done that at least once during his career at The Citadel.

Groselle wasn’t the only player who excelled in Colorado. DeVontae Wright rebounded from a tough night against VMI (1-7 FG) and had an outstanding game against Army, scoring 26 points on just 12 shots from the field (he was 8-8 from the line).

Eleven Bulldogs played in each contest, and all of them scored against VMI. Ten of them got in the scoring column against Army (C.J. Bray was the exception, though he did have four rebounds in that game). Cosmo Morabbi attempted one three-pointer against Army, and made it, the first three he had made since the 2009-10 season (he had missed a number of games last year due to injury). I hope that is a sign of things to come for Morabbi. Bo Holston had 12 points and 7 rebounds in that game.

Lawrence Miller provided a spark against VMI, going 4-5 from three-land and scoring 14 points. Marshall Harris III had 11 points and 9 assists against the Keydets, and Ashton Moore added 10 points and 5 assists in the same game. The Bulldogs had four players come off the bench to score in double figures against VMI, as Barry Smith scored 12 points in 16 minutes of play.

Offensively, there wasn’t much to complain about in the first two games. The Citadel shot the ball well from the field and the line, made a decent percentage of threes (without taking too many), and did not commit an avalanche of turnovers. The assist-to-basket ratio was good, particularly against VMI. Groselle could use a little help on the offensive boards, though.

The defense needs to get better, however. The Bulldogs struggled defensively last season, and must improve on that side of the court to compete in the Southern Conference. The Citadel gave up 103 points to VMI on an estimated 85 possessions.

Thanks to a strong second-half effort, the numbers were better against Army, but the Bulldogs needed as many stops as they could get in the second half after giving up 49 first-half points. The Citadel did a much better job defending the three in that second frame; Army was 6-8 beyond the arc in the first half, but only 1-13 thereafter.

It has been a while since The Citadel defeated a “BCS team” in basketball. Indeed, the Bulldogs have lost 55 consecutive games to schools currently in a BCS conference, and 81 of their last 82. The lone victory in that run came near the end of the 1988-89 season, when The Citadel memorably defeated South Carolina in Columbia, 88-87. The Gamecocks actually made the NCAA tournament that year, so it’s not like the Bulldogs took advantage of a bad team.

The last time The Citadel beat Clemson? 1979, at McAlister Field House. The Bulldogs won 58-56, one of twenty victories for The Citadel in that particular campaign, the first time the school had ever won that many games in a season (and only matched once since then, three years ago).

Interesting note: the Bulldogs’ last two victories over BCS schools came against South Carolina and Clemson. Randy Nesbit was the head coach when The Citadel beat the Gamecocks, and a player when the Bulldogs defeated the Tigers. In fact, Nesbit hit the game-winning shot against Clemson in 1979.

Last year at Littlejohn Coliseum, Clemson defeated The Citadel 69-54. Mike Groselle had 14 points and 10 rebounds (five of them offensive boards) in that game.

Milton Jennings of Clemson, who went to Pinewood Prep in Summerville, also had a double-double in that game despite playing only 18 minutes; he’s an expected starter for Wednesday’s game. Jennings also had a double-double at Duke, on the Blue Devils’ Senior Night. The junior was a McDonald’s All-American, and he may be just starting to realize his potential.

Other Tigers who will start or see major action include sharpshooter Andre Young, who can fill it up despite being only 5’9″, freshman guard T.J. Sapp, and 6’5″ swingman Tanner Smith. Jennings will be joined in the frontcourt by Devin Booker, a decent jump shooter with nice touch around the rim. He’s a good rebounder as well. Jennings and Booker will be a formidable challenge for the Bulldogs’ big men.

The Tigers were a solid defensive club last year under first-year coach Brad Brownell. They held their opponents to an eFG% of 45.6, 25th-best nationally, and also forced turnovers at an impressive clip. Clemson occasionally struggled keeping opponents off the offensive boards.

Notable stat: the Tigers led the ACC in free throw shooting, which for many observers was disorienting.

Clemson played another group of Bulldogs, Gardner-Webb, in its opener. That game was tied at the half, 29-29, after G-W overcame a 13-point deficit. The Tigers broke out early in the second half, though, and reasserted control of the game, cruising to a 65-44 victory. Young was 7-9 from the field (3-4 3FG). Clemson also got 11 points from Sapp and a career-high 14 rebounds from Smith.

This will be the Tigers’ first visit to McAlister Field House since November 28, 1989. That was a big night for McAlister, as it was the first game played in the venerable arena since it had closed for remodeling two years earlier.

I was at that game, won by the Tigers 71-54 (the game was more competitive than the final score suggests). Clemson’s team featured both Elden Campbell and Dale Davis. On that particular evening, Campbell was average, but Davis was tremendous, impressing everyone in the building with his athleticism and skill.

It should be a fun night at McAlister Field House. I enjoyed the commercial The Citadel produced to promote the game. I hope a big crowd is there to “Pack the Mac”, as Chuck Driesell so eloquently put it.

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