We won by HOW many points?

The Citadel 70, Samford 45.  At Samford.

Just to put that score in perspective, The Citadel last won a road game by 25+ points in 1960, against VMI (76-45).  In 1958, the Bulldogs beat the Keydets in Lexington, VA by 32 (86-54).

Other 25+ point road wins since 1940 (games are not listed by home/road in the media guide prior to that year, although it’s likely that there was no 25+ point road victory prior to 1940 anyway):  Furman in 1951 (62-36); Davidson in 1945 (60-26); and Clemson in 1943 (63-38).  All of these games were Southern Conference matchups (yes, Clemson was in the SoCon in 1943).

It’s not all that surprising that all of The Citadel’s lopsided road victories occurred in conference play, since A) most of the Bulldogs’ road games are against conference opponents, and B) a good chunk of The Citadel’s out-of-conference road games over the years have come against major-conference teams.  The Citadel isn’t going to play Piedmont, for example, on the road.

Tangent:  of all the games I’ve seen The Citadel play, Piedmont was the only opponent where I thought, “I could play for that team”.  I’m not saying I would have started or anything like that…

Let’s see, what else about this game is worth noting…Samford missed its last 10 three-pointers as part of its woeful 6-32 night from behind the arc…Samford made no field goals over the last 8:30 of the game, a stretch in which it only attempted two non-three pointers from the field…there were no fast break points for either team according to the “play analysis” stats…The Citadel scored 70 points in only 59 total possessions…John Brown had 12 rebounds despite playing only 15 minutes because of foul trouble, although part of that was having plenty of rebounding opportunities thanks to Samford’s poor shooting, not to mention Samford isn’t a good rebounding team anyway…10 of the 11 players seeing minutes for Samford had at least one three-point attempt (the one guy who didn’t only played three minutes)…Samford had an 80% assist-to-made basket ratio, which is great, except that it only had 15 made baskets…Samford was only called for nine fouls for the entire game.

So The Citadel is now 11-10 overall and 6-4 in the league.  The Bulldogs now have a reasonable chance at finishing with a winning record in league play, which hasn’t happened since the 2000-01 team finished 9-7 in the conference.  It would only be the second winning season in the league for the school since the 1984-85 team went 11-5 in the SoCon.

That 1985 team’s 11 wins is the school record for conference victories in a season, and obviously if The Citadel were to have a winning season this year in the league it would at least tie that mark for victories.  Of course, the difference is that there are 20 league games this season (which, as I’ve said before, is ridiculous).  Still, a SoCon win is a SoCon win, especially for this program.  Imagine if Ed Conroy and co. managed to go 12-8 in the league this season (which as of today is The Citadel’s projected conference record by Ken Pomeroy’s ratings system).  Those 12 wins would equal The Citadel’s total number of conference victories from 1946-56, an eleven-year stretch (the school lost 102 SoCon games over that period).

Before I get to the upcoming game, a note of caution.  The Citadel has played some good basketball over these last three games, but it’s not time to pencil the team into the Final Four just yet.  This is the same club that got thumped at home by UC-Davis, and was fortunate to escape a terrible Furman team in OT.  It’s also the same team that lost earlier this season to Elon, Thursday night’s opponent, one of only two league victories for the Phoenix so far this season.

Against Samford, the Bulldogs took advantage of a team that appeared to be leg-weary and could not throw the ball in the ocean in the second half, and while The Citadel played good defense, Samford did get some open looks.  Still, I don’t want to devalue that performance.  Cameron Wells was sensational no matter how poor Samford may have been, and it’s worth noting that it was the third straight game The Citadel had outstanding results in defending the three-point shot.  Samford, as mentioned above, was 6-32 behind the arc.  The College of Charleston was even worse (2-18), and Western Carolina was only 4-15 from three-land.  That’s an 18.5% three-point shooting percentage for Bulldog opponents over those three games.  For league games, The Citadel now leads the SoCon in defending the three (28.4%).

Last season The Citadel allowed opponents to shoot 40.0% from beyond the arc, which was in the bottom 15 nationally.  That contributed in a major way to opponents shooting an effective field goal percentage of 51.3%, worst in the entire country.  This year the Bulldogs have an OppeFG of 44.5%, a significant improvement, and that percentage is dropping even lower as the season progresses.

Okay, now to the rematch with Elon, which defeated The Citadel 56-54, a game marred in the closing seconds by a shaky shotclock operator.  Elon parlayed that win into the start of a three-game winning streak that left it 4-4, 1-1 in league play.  Apparently the Phoenix ate some bad turkey over Christmas, however, because since that third consecutive win Elon has lost eight of nine games, the only victory a one-point upset of Chattanooga last Saturday at the Koury Center.  Elon is now 5-12 overall and 2-7 in SoCon action.  Many of the losses have been competitive — the Phoenix lost at Wofford by three (same as The Citadel), by four to Samford, by four to Navy, and by seven at Western Carolina.  There isn’t any shame in losing at Davidson by 15, either.  However, Elon has also lost by 26 at Maryland (pre-Terp meltdown), by 24 at Appalachian State, and by 17 in a home game against UNC-Greensboro.

The first game between the Phoenix and Bulldogs was a very slowly paced affair (57 possessions for The Citadel) in which Elon won by shooting over 50% from the field (to The Citadel’s 42%).  The Citadel made only 5 of 21 three-point attempts and went to the foul line only eight times.  Interestingly, The Citadel outrebounded Elon 29-23 in that game, noteworthy in particular because rebounding savant John Brown did not play in that game.  (Ed Conroy waited until after the new year to unleash Brown on an unsuspecting Southern Conference.)

Elon was 10-14 from the foul line in the game, but that was an anomaly, as it is the conference’s worst free throw shooting team (just over 60% in league play).  Elon has not shot the ball well in conference action from the field, either.  Also, above I discussed The Citadel’s improvement in defending the three-ball.  Elon is just the opposite, as it has allowed its opponents to shoot a collective 38% from behind the arc, a percentage among the nation’s worst and last in the Southern Conference (and in conference games the number is even worse:  41.3%).

These two teams have gone in very different directions since December 6.  I expect The Citadel to win the rematch, but it won’t be easy.  Nothing is ever easy at The Citadel.  It will be interesting to see how the Bulldogs play as a solid favorite.  I’ll also be watching to see what the attendance figures are.  Previous attendance for home Thursday conference games:  845 against Georgia Southern on January 8, and 1133 against Western Carolina last week.

I anticipate the trend of rising attendance to continue.  I hope the level of play continues to rise as well.