Make it five in a row; The Citadel’s basketball team rolls along

This is going to be one of my shorter posts.  Apologies to anyone who actually follows the blog on a semi-regular basis, but it’s hard to write when under the effects of anesthesia.  I was barely able to follow Thursday night’s game against Western Carolina, in which the Bulldogs played as good a half (the second) as they have all season.  I wish I had been at full speed for that one, but I’ll take a 17-point win while groggy any day.

Anyway, Ed Conroy and company have won 5 straight games.  Ed has figured out this February basketball thing, as the Bulldogs are 11-1 in the shortest month over the last two seasons.  Last year, they lost their final game in February after winning six straight in the month (the final six games of last season’s 11-game winning streak).  This year, the Bulldogs are 5-0 in the month with three games to go — UNC-Greensboro on Saturday in the home finale at McAlister Field House, followed by road games against Furman and Wofford.

Quick hits on the Western Carolina game:

  • It’s great to see Cosmo Morabbi getting his shot back.  He made three-pointers from all over the court, setting a career high for makes (5).  Zach Urbanus has been consistent most of the year, but if Morabbi and Austin Dahn (who had a tough night, but made a three near the game’s end) are also shooting well from outside, the Bulldogs can present some serious problems for opposing defenses along the perimeter.
  • Morabbi wasn’t just shooting from outside; he had three steals in the game as well.
  • The stat line doesn’t really show it, but Bryan Streeter had a very solid game last night, particularly defensively.  He outplayed WCU’s post players all night, in my opinion.  Some of his rebounds came in heavy traffic.  He just needs to watch those elbows, especially on SoCon Saturdays when the officiating is, uh, interesting.
  • Harrison DuPont had another good game after a slow start.  I kind of like combining his numbers with those of Bo Holston.  If you do that, you get this line:  40 minutes, 17 points (5-11 FG, 6-8 FT; DuPont also made a 3), 14 rebounds (6 offensive), 2 assists, 3 turnovers.  [Also 6 fouls, so pretend the combo player is in the NBA.]  That’s very good production over the course of a game, obviously.  DuPont should be a serious candidate for the All-SoCon freshman team.
  • It wasn’t Cameron Wells’ best night, as it took him 14 FG attempts to score 13 points.  He also had four turnovers (he did have 5 assists, though).  Despite that, The Citadel won by 17.  That’s a very good sign going forward, especially after being down 11 points at one point in the first half.  Wells isn’t going to be “off” too often.
  • The Bulldogs trailed 25-14 with 5:34 remaining in the half.  For the rest of the game, The Citadel outscored WCU 59-31.  Remember, WCU has a win this season over Louisville at Freedom Hall.  It’s a team that has some talent.
  • The Bulldogs were 7-10 from beyond the arc in the second half.  You can win a lot of games shooting 70% from three-land in the second half.
  • Western Carolina’s leading scorer this season, Brandon Giles, was 0-6 from the field, committed four turnovers, and did not score against The Citadel.

Last season, UNC-Greensboro won only five games all season, four in Southern Conference play.  So far this season, UNCG has won five games, four in Southern Conference play.  The Spartans actually started their conference campaign with a 33-point win at Samford, but that was definitely an outlier.  UNCG is now 4-11 in the league and has lost five straight SoCon outings, although they’ve only been blown out in one of those five, so it’s not like the Spartans haven’t been competitive lately. They just haven’t been winning.

UNC has a fine player in 6’5″ senior Ben Stywall, who averages 14.4 points per game and 10.3 rebounds per contest.  That’s right, he averages a double-double.  Stywall scored 22 points and grabbed 11 boards in UNCG’s most recent game, a 70-65 loss to Elon.  He has had some monster games this year, most of them in losses, including 26/19 against Samford, 21/14 against the College of Charleston, and 24/14 against Western Carolina.  In that CofC game, 11 of Stywall’s rebounds came on the offensive end.

One reason Stywall gets a lot of offensive boards is because he gets a lot of chances. UNCG is the poorest shooting team in the conference in league play, shooting just 38.9% from the field.  Stywall is the only Spartan getting significant minutes who is shooting better than 41%.  Kyle Randall is a 6’2″ freshman who has taken only one fewer shot than Stywall, but he’s only shooting 33%.  The Spartans have two three-point gunners (Mikko Koivisto and Kendall Toney); neither is shooting better than 37% from the field (or better than 34% from beyond the arc).

The Citadel should win this game.  Not because it’s the last home game of the season (which the Bulldogs actually lost last year), but because it’s a much better team that is playing its best basketball of the season.  The Bulldogs need to maintain their excellent perimeter defense and control Stywall on the glass (they aren’t going to completely stop him). UNCG likes to play at a higher tempo (averaging over 70 possessions per game in league play), so as usual The Citadel must control the pace.

The game is on SportSouth, the second Saturday in a row the Bulldogs will be featured on television.  The start time is 1 pm ET; if you can’t be at the game (like me, unfortunately), you should be watching on TV.  This team has now set the all-time school record for most victories over a two-year span with 35 (breaking a record set in 1979-80).  I’m hoping they add at least seven more games to that mark…

When a win is a win

I’ll start off by quoting…myself.  From the previous post:

I expect The Citadel to win the rematch, but it won’t be easy.  Nothing is ever easy at The Citadel.

It sure wasn’t easy; of course, the Bulldogs made it hard on themselves by playing the last 33 minutes of the game the way Elon wanted to play it.  The Citadel could have put the game out of reach early, especially against a low-scoring team that had not won on the road all season, but it wasted multiple possessions and let Elon crawl back into the contest.

Elon called a timeout at the 16:49 mark of the first half, trailing 12-2.  Over the next five minutes Elon could only muster four points, missing seven shots from the field and committing a turnover during that time.  That was when the Bulldogs should have put the Phoenix away, but over that same stretch The Citadel committed five turnovers and missed two out of three shots.

As it happened, The Citadel maintained the lead throughout the game well into the second half, leading 55-45 with 6:30 to play.  That was deceiving, however, because the Bulldogs had never been able to put any distance between themselves and the Phoenix after the initial run to start the game.  So it wasn’t a huge surprise when Elon finally put a run of its own together, and two and a half minutes later The Citadel found itself trailing for the first time.  The Bulldogs only made two more baskets (and no free throws) the rest of the game, but it was just enough to win.

Elon shot poorly for much of the game, and had almost no success running its normal offense.  The Phoenix scored mostly in transition and from the foul line.  The Citadel gave Elon a number of transition/free throw opportunities, though, by taking a lot of out-of-character shots and committing a slew of fouls (the officiating, which was somewhat inconsistent, did not help matters).

It was a very frustrating game to watch, and I kept thinking, “we’re going to get swept by Elon, and we’re better than they are.”   Then The Citadel actually won the game…

There haven’t really been too many times over the years when The Citadel has not played well and still won.  Thursday night was one of those times.  This is The Citadel we’re talking about, though, so every win is worth celebrating, no matter how ugly.

Maybe the Bulldogs were tired from playing their fourth game in eight days.  I hope not, because they’re about to play their fifth game in ten days.

The game against UNC-Greensboro on Saturday will be the eleventh game in a twenty-eight day stretch that started with a one-point escape over Bethune-Cookman.  The rest of the games have been in league play.  With a win over the Spartans, The Citadel would finish with an 8-3 record in January, with seven of those wins in conference.  However, the Bulldogs have to play better against UNCG than they did against Elon if they hope to win their fifth straight SoCon game.

The Citadel last won five consecutive league games during the 2000-01 season, which was also the last time the Bulldogs finished with a winning record in Southern Conference play.  That year The Citadel was 3-6 in the SoCon before winning five straight to move to 8-6.  It then lost once, won once, and then finished the season by losing in the first round of the conference tournament.

I could be wrong about this, but after doing some checking, I think that’s the only time in school history The Citadel has won five consecutive Southern Conference games.  That gives you a little perspective on what the team is trying to accomplish.

In the first meeting between the Spartans and Bulldogs, The Citadel pulled away early in the second half and held that lead for the remainder of the game.  UNCG never got closer than four points down the stretch, as the Spartans endured a miserable 5-29 night from beyond the arc.  The Citadel won the game despite committing 14 turnovers (in only 60 possessions), thanks to UNCG’s poor shooting and a solid shooting effort of its own (eFG of 51.3%).  This was the conference opener for both teams, and The Citadel outrebounded UNCG 37-30.  As I mentioned in the last post, John Brown did not make his conference debut until after the new year, which I think is something to consider when looking at the rebounding stats.

At the time the game was a bit of a surprise, as The Citadel won its conference opener (and on the road) after having only won one league game all season the year before.  However, as things stand today it isn’t nearly as surprising.  The Citadel has played well all year in conference action, while UNC-Greensboro is now 3-16 overall (2-8 SoCon).  Curiously, both of the Spartans’ conference victories have come away from home, including a 17-point win over Elon, so the Bulldogs have to be prepared for a team that isn’t going to roll over just because they’re on the road.

On Thursday UNCG dropped an 89-73 decision to the College of Charleston in a game in which the Cougars hit 12 first-half three-pointers en route to a 55-point half.  Ben Stywall scored 26 points in a losing cause; in the first game against The Citadel, Stywall scored six points in 36 minutes (he’s averaging 11 points per game on the season).

The Spartans are one of the nation’s poorest shooting teams (39.4 FG%) and also one of the country’s worst defensive teams (46.5%).  Defensively, the numbers for UNCG aren’t as bad defending the three, but opponents are making two-point shots at a 54.5% clip, which is atrocious.

If The Citadel stays within itself offensively (in other words, don’t play too fast), and maintains its excellent run of defending three-point shooting (a conference-best 28.3% against the 3 in league play), then the Bulldogs should win this game — and maybe make a little history in the process.