19 could lead to 20, and 20 means a lot

The Citadel 75, Furman 54.  This would be called “taking care of business”, except that it took the Bulldogs a half to get appropriately businesslike…

In the first half, The Citadel shot 11-34 from the field, including 0-7 from three-point land.  Clearly the eight-day layoff had left the Bulldogs’ shooters rusty, at least from the outside (and maybe from the inside too — John Brown missed not one but two dunk attempts).  The Citadel’s play was a touch sloppy, and there were several missed rebounding opportunities.  The only Bulldog seemingly unaffected by the malaise was Demetrius Nelson.  Luckily for The Citadel, he was more than up to the task of carrying the team.  Nelson scored 17 points in the half, including the last 11 for the Bulldogs, and The Citadel sneaked away with a three-point halftime lead.

The second half was a tour de force, as almost everything you would want to see as a Bulldog fan came to pass.  Nelson continued dominating in the post, Brown resumed his get-every-loose-ball-in-Charleston-County routine (and made all three of his dunk attempts), Zach Urbanus started making threes, Austin Dahn grabbed some tough rebounds and did a good job passing the ball (including a great assist to Brown out of the post), Cameron Wells drove, dished, and finished, Cosmo Morabbi knocked down a corner three on yet another well-conceived inbounds play, and Bryan Streeter contributed solid post defense, boarded with abandon and even made a free throw (now he needs to show Brown how it’s done).

The Bulldogs shot 75% from the field in the second half, including 4-7 from beyond the arc.  The defense was outstanding throughout the game, as Furman never got comfortable on offense (the Paladins had only 3 assists on 19 made baskets and were victimized by 11 Bulldog steals).  Nelson finished with 28 points on only 12 field goal attempts.  He also had 8 rebounds, a pair of assists, two steals, and did not commit a turnover.  After the game he leaped over a tall building in a single bound.  Brown had a career-high 16 points to go along with his usual disruptive ways.

With the win, the Bulldogs swept the Paladins in the regular season for the first time since 2001, and the margin of victory on Thursday was the biggest for The Citadel in a game against Furman since the 1939 team beat the Paladins 56-34 (incidentally, that game was part of a six-game winning streak for the Bulldogs against Furman, the longest winning streak The Citadel has ever had against the Paladins).  The Bulldogs also broke a five-game losing streak to Furman at McAlister Field House.

The victory also established a new standard for biggest turnaround for a Bulldog team from one season to the next (in terms of wins), as The Citadel has now gone from 6 wins last season to at least 19 victories this year.  The previous record was 12, as the 1978-79 team won 20 games following an 8-win campaign in 1977-78.  The Bulldogs continue to add to the school record for conference victories, the school record for consecutive conference victories, and the conference record for turnaround in league play (by wins).

A crowd of 4,219 enjoyed the action, with a vocal contingent of cadets leading the way (I particularly liked the giant cutouts of the heads of Nelson and Jonathan Brick).  Attendance will presumably be even better for the Saturday night game against Wofford.  The last time the home finale had this much meaning was…well, I’m not sure there has been a home finale with as much on the line:

  • A win would tie the school record for victories in a season (20).  The aforementioned 1978-79 squad is the only Bulldog team to win 20 games in a season.  As it happens, the ’79 team will be honored on Saturday, as it’s the 30th anniversary of that season.  That strikes me as poetic (well, it’s poetic if the Bulldogs win the game).
  • A win would also clinch no worse than a tie for second in the SoCon South Division, and as The Citadel swept the College of Charleston this season, the Bulldogs would be guaranteed a bye in the Southern Conference tournament.  That’s obviously critical to The Citadel’s chances of winning the SoCon tourney.  Three wins in three days will be very difficult.  Four wins in four days would be almost impossible.

Let’s examine that second-place possibility for a moment.  Obviously everyone is concentrating on the bye, and that’s understandable, but in a historic context it’s the placement that deserves notice.  Second place may not mean that much to some schools, but for The Citadel, it’s a big deal.  Why, you ask?  (I’m assuming you asked — if you didn’t, just go with the flow.)

This is The Citadel’s 73rd season as a member of the Southern Conference.  As you might have heard or read, The Citadel has never finished first in the league’s regular season standings.  It has never had the conference’s best record.  What you may not have heard or read is that The Citadel has also never finished second.

That’s right.  In its first 58 years of SoCon membership, The Citadel never finished higher than third.  For the past 14 years, league standings have been broken into two divisions, and it’s true that twice the Bulldogs have tied for second place in the South Division.  However, on neither of those occasions did The Citadel tie for second in overall record in the league.  In 1998 the Bulldogs were 6-8 in the SoCon South, tying for second in a five-team division with Wofford.  The Citadel tied for the 5th-best record in the conference that season.  In 2001, The Citadel was in a three-way tie for second in the division, which was good enough to tie for the 4th-best record in the league.

For the record, The Citadel has only enjoyed 15 seasons in its history (before this season) when it finished the year in the upper half of the conference (that includes the 1989 team that tied for 4th in an eight-team league).  There have also been 15 seasons in which the Bulldogs finished last in the conference (overall, regardless of divisional or non-divisional format), 10 campaigns when the Bulldogs finished next-to-last, and 11 seasons in which the Bulldogs wound up third-from-last in the conference.  In exactly half of the 72 Southern Conference campaigns prior to this season, The Citadel finished in the bottom three in the league.

Getting the bye is the immediate concern for The Citadel, because of what it means in terms of the SoCon tournament.  (I’ll save the stats on the Bulldogs’ tourney history for another post; there is only so much “misery history” I can write, as The Citadel’s record in the tourney is actually worse than its SoCon regular season record.)  The chance to finish second, though, is something that would have lasting meaning.  No team in the North Division can match The Citadel’s league win total, so it’s down to The Citadel and the College of Charleston for second overall.  (The Citadel also still has a mathematical chance of tying Davidson for first, but that is very unlikely to happen.)

It’s not going to be easy on Saturday (not that it should be), because Wofford will be a very tough out.  The Terriers fought back from a 15-point halftime deficit at the College of Charleston on Thursday night, and the Cougars barely survived the onslaught, hanging on for an 86-84 victory.

Of course, Wofford is also the last team to beat The Citadel, having won 66-63 in Spartanburg in January.  In that game, the Bulldogs trailed by 16 points late in the first half before making a furious comeback, taking the lead with nine minutes to play.  However, the Terriers regained the lead and held on for the victory.  This game came during a stretch of contests where The Citadel would struggle in the first half before pouring it on in the second.  The Citadel has mostly avoided first-half pitfalls since the game against Wofford, and needs to continue playing well from the opening tip if it is to win its twelth straight.

The Bulldogs also need to do a better job defending the erratic but dangerous Junior Salters (four for six behind the arc in the first game) and must somehow control Noah Dahlman, an all-conference candidate who scored 36 points last night for the Terriers against the CofC.  Dahlman has scored at least 18 points in nine of Wofford’s last ten games.  He scored 17 points against The Citadel in Spartanburg (on just nine FG attempts).  Corey Godzinski will also be a factor on Saturday after missing the first meeting between the two teams with a broken hand.  He’s 6’8″ and can shoot from outside (he made three 3-pointers against the College).

The game against Wofford isn’t a must-win for the Bulldogs in terms of getting the bye.  The backup plan would be the regular season tail-ender, a game in Statesboro on Monday night against a decimated Georgia Southern squad.  However, given the spotlight that will be on the Saturday night contest, and with all the pomp and circumstance associated with it (Senior Night, the ’79 team being honored, etc.), there will be considerable pressure on the Bulldog players to keep all the streaks going and to treat the home fans to a game to remember.

It will be interesting to see how the team performs.  In a way, it’s a warmup for what The Citadel will encounter at the Southern Conference tournament.  It’s one more challenge for Ed Conroy and company.  With the way this year is going, you wouldn’t want to bet against them.

The last TV appearance of the hoops season, unless…

It’s not often I get to post about a 14-point victory in SoCon play, but last night The Citadel pummelled Western Carolina in the second half en route to a 66-52 victory.  It’s easy to win games by double digits when you shoot 70% from the field in a half. 


I thought the key to the run, though, was John Brown’s spirited play.  He seemed to get every rebound and loose ball during the second half.  He also just missed on what would have been a SportsCenter-worthy jam; I suspect he’ll get teased by his teammates (and Ed Conroy) for that.  Good effort all around, though.  17 assists on 26 made baskets is a very good ratio.  The pace was solid (62 possessions), and the Bulldogs outrebounded WCU, which was a bit of a surprise.  Jonathan Brick made two three-pointers; that’s as many as he had made all season.


Congrats to Demetrius Nelson for being the 25th member of the 1000-point club at The Citadel, which is a testament to his perseverance as much as it is to his talent. 


With the win The Citadel moved to 4-4 in league play.  It’s been six years since the Bulldogs had a .500 record or better in the conference after eight games.  (It’s also been six years since The Citadel won more than four conference games in a season.) 


The one negative was the large number of turnovers (18).  Most of them came in the first half and, in retrospect, kept the Catamounts in the game.  The Bulldogs have to avoid committing turnovers.  They aren’t going to shoot that well every night.  At least in this game they avoided the first half blues that had plagued them recently.


Speaking of that, The Citadel was coming off a tough loss at Wofford where the Bulldogs had trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half before mounting a furious comeback, actually taking the lead briefly.  The Citadel could not maintain the momentum, however, and eventually lost by three.   That was another 62-possession game, which I was glad to see (although Wofford doesn’t run-and-gun at all, so it was also an expected total).  The Citadel had struggled in the first half against Furman too, but recovered to win that game in OT (it helps that the Paladins are horrendous).


Wofford’s not a bad club at all, but last night Georgia Southern clubbed them in Statesboro.  I’m not sure what to make of that, other than Junior Salters must have done too much celebrating against The Citadel, because he went 3-14 from the field against GSU.  That means that third place in the SoCon South Division is a three-way tie, with The Citadel and Georgia Southern both 4-4 in league play and Wofford at 3-3.  Davidson leads the division, of course; sitting in second place is Bobby Cremins’ crew from the College of Charleston, which is 7-1 in the league (losing only to Davidson) and 15-3 overall, including a win over South Carolina. 


As it happens, The Citadel will host the CofC at McAlister Field House on Saturday afternoon.  It’s going to be televised by SportSouth, the third and final time the Bulldogs will be featured on TV this season, unless the Bulldogs were to advance to the Southern Conference tournament semi-finals for only the second time in the last 24 seasons.  That would be…different.


The Cougars are one of the country’s better offensive squads, averaging 1.113 points per possession (17th nationally).  They shoot well from the field, whether inside or outside (38% from three-land), and take good care of the basketball.  The only thing offensively that qualifies as a weakness is their free throw shooting (65.9%).  Currently five College of Charleston players are averaging double-figure scoring, led by guard Andrew Goudelock (who is shooting 48.5% from beyond the arc).


Defensively the Cougars aren’t nearly as impressive.  CofC opponents are shooting 46% from the field.  Also, the Cougars are not a good rebounding team.  The College of Charleston is averaging over four blocked shots per game, however, and leads the SoCon in that category.


I would guess that at least 5000 people will be in attendance at McAlister on Saturday, including a goodly number of cadets.  It should be a great atmosphere.  I just hope the game is as good.

Reviewing The Citadel’s last three basketball games

Boring title for a post, but it’s the best I can do.  When the temperature drops below 25 degrees, I get less imaginative…

The Citadel is now 8-9 overall, 3-3 in the Southern Conference, after last night’s thank-God-and-Zach Urbanus-we-won 74-69 OT throwdown with the less than mighty Purple Paladins.  Furman came into the game ranked 341st in the RPI, ahead of only Alcorn State and Southern.  (Maybe there should be a SoCon-SWAC challenge next December.)  However, for a half The Citadel played like the team that hadn’t won a Division I game all season.  Furman changed defenses and forced the confused Bulldogs to commit 11 turnovers in the first half.  The Citadel finally figured out things early in the second half (and the shorthanded Paladins wore down a bit).  However, not being able to stand prosperity, The Citadel somehow blew a seven-point lead in the final four minutes.  Credit to Furman’s players for not giving up; credit to The Citadel’s players for recovering to take control in overtime.

The stats bear out that turnovers were the sole reason Furman was really even in the game.  The Citadel isn’t going to win many games when it commits 15+ turnovers (17 last night), especially when it forces less than 10 from its opponent (Furman only had 9).  The Bulldogs outshot the Paladins, outrebounded them (by 13) and did a good job both getting to the foul line and making the shots when they got there.  The pace of play was about where The Citadel wanted it to be, perhaps a little fast, but not overly so.  Speaking of pace…

My concern with the team as it continues on this long stretch of hoops (the upcoming game against Wofford will be The Citadel’s fifth in ten days; it starts another five-in-ten run on Thursday) is that the possession rate per game has increased to a level higher than where it best suits the Bulldogs.  Before the Davidson game, here were the possession totals for The Citadel’s games against D-1 competition:  72, 54, 70, 55, 53, 60, 57, 63, 70, 70, 56.   Two of the three 70-possession games came against Michigan State and South Carolina; the other was the road win at Charleston Southern, and included a lot of late-game free throw shooting.  The 72-possession game came against VCU.  In other words, in games where The Citadel could control the pace of play, 60 possessions was about where it wanted to be.

Against Davidson, in front of a large crowd, and with an aggressive opponent (and with way too many fouls being called, on both teams), The Citadel wound up with 84 possessions.  That may have been understandable, but when I watched the Chattanooga game two days later, I felt the Bulldogs weren’t patient enough on offense and played the game the way Chattanooga wanted to play it.  Ultimately, it resulted in a tough loss, and it bugged me a little because, honestly, I think The Citadel should have won the game.  That was a missed opportunity.

That missed opportunity made the Furman game that much more important.  Furman may be really bad, but The Citadel can’t count on any victories, especially conference road victories, and I was afraid the Bulldogs had blown it by playing such a poor first half.  Winning it means the Bulldogs won’t be as likely to press, as a loss would have resulted in a three-game losing streak and all the old doubts and fears and “here we go again” talk.  Now, The Citadel has a .500 record in league play heading into Saturday night’s game at Wofford.

Wofford has had an interesting season thus far.  It is currently 112th in the RPI despite a 6-7 overall record.  The Terriers lost at Dayton by three in their season opener (Dayton is currently 15-2), and then got shelled by still-undefeated Clemson.  Wofford then won a holiday tournament hosted by Air Force, beat UNC-Asheville, lost its conference opener at home to Appalachian State, waxed a non-D1 team, and then totally blew a chance at a BCS scalp, losing on a last-second OT shot to Georgia, 74-73 (the conference as a whole would have really liked that one).  In the month of January the Terriers have lost at Navy (which is now 13-4 and a serious contender in the Patriot League) and at South Carolina, won two league road games (including a win at Chattanooga), and on Thursday night lost a tough game at home to the College of Charleston, 65-63.  Wofford is 2-2 in SoCon play, with the two losses at home and the two wins on the road.

This should be a slow-paced game, since Wofford is eleventh in the conference in total possessions, both in league play and overall.  The Citadel is tenth overall, but fifth in league play (as per my point above).   The Terriers do not shoot the ball particularly well, but are one of the nation’s better defensive rebounding teams.  They also foul a lot.

Wofford has also had some injury problems.  Junior Salters was averaging 17.2 points per game through the Georgia game, but hasn’t played since.  Corey Godzinski has a broken hand and is out for four weeks.  The Terriers do have Noah Dahlman, a 6’6″ sophomore forward averaging 16.8 points per game, who despite all the injuries is still coming off the bench.  Tim Johnson is a 6’5″ junior forward avering 9.9 points per game who went for 21 against the CofC.  Dahlman and Johnson combine to average over 17 rebounds per game.

Side note for all you gambling types:  following up on a brief blurb in Jeff Hartsell’s Bulldog Bites, in games involving The Citadel in which the “over-under” has been available for betting, the “over” is now 8-1.  Last night’s OT foiled the under-wanters and resulted in another victory for the over-hopers.

Another road win in league play would be a nice way to close out this five-pack of games and would set the Bulldogs up nicely for the next five-pack.  I would say that it will be a hot time in Spartanburg on Saturday night, except that it’s going to be really, really cold…