SPARTANBURG, S.C.—"He wears No. 23 and he's the great one from Great Falls, S.C., he's T.C. Torrey Craig."—Brian Rushing, Public Address Announcer, USC Upstate.
That introduction could not be more fitting by esteemed public address announcer Brian Rushing, who along with several others, has been able to watch one of the best kept secrets in college basketball for the past two seasons.
Now 51 games into his career and donning the Green and Black of USC Upstate, Craig has lived up to that Hodge Center introduction each time he has taken the hardwood in his brief, but decorated collegiate career to this point.
Craig, the 2010-11 Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year on a Spartan ball club that finished just 5-25 a year ago, has blossomed into one of the top talents that no one has heard about in Division I college basketball.
To give you an idea of how much Craig has met to the Upstate basketball program over the past 51 games, he has scored in double figures in 42 of 51 career games and 20 or more points 16 times in his career to date.
He has also led the Spartans in scoring in all but 17 games in those 51 outings.
Sure, the Atlantic Sun knows about Craig, who put up 14.4 PPG a year ago to garner his postseason citation as the league's top freshman, but few took the time to take a look at the 6'5" small forward at USC Upstate.
It was more a case that the Spartans struggled than the fact that they weren't interested in Craig's talents and scoring ability.
In a state where football is king, it's hard to be noticed if you're a prominent player in the Palmetto State of South Carolina, even if you're a talented player. But fans seem to take notice when you start playing basketball and fans flock to arenas when you win basketball games, even in the Palmetto State.
One has to only look as far back as last season to notice that trend.
At Wofford, fans flocked to see one of the state's big men, in Noah Dahlman, while College of Charleston had one of the most dynamic scoring guards in the history of the state, as Andrew Goudelock had fans all over the state and southeast interested in his performances, and thus, the Cougars. Furman, which won 20 games for the first time in two decades, sold out Timmons Arena on at least two occasions last season, as fans were interested to see human highlight film Amu Saaka and the Paladins.
Even at Clemson, a player like point guard Demontez Stitt, though not the scorer that the aforementioned players are, captivated fans with his ability to dictate a game with his play at the point. Of course, we can't forget about Coastal Carolina's Desmond Holloway, who led the Big South in scoring and nearly led the Chanticleers all the way to the NCAA Tournament, before a late-season extra benefits scandal involving Holloway and three other Chanticleers caused Coastal to finish the season with only eight scholarship players.
Even former Low Country product Omar Carter, who transferred to Appalachian State from Charleston Southern, where he was the Big South's Freshman of the Year in 2008-09, was so impressive in his first season at Appalachian State, that he was the Southern Conference's selection for Preseason Player of the Year. So, you get the idea. There were plenty of good basketball players in the Palmetto State that captivated audiences last season in what was a solid season for Division I college basketball in the state last season.
But Craig and the Spartans are making there own noise this season, and in a season when the state hasn't seen the success it experienced a year ago, it's Craig and the Spartans that are beginning to steal the show. Craig's short jumper with .07 remaining on Saturday helped the Spartans to a proverbial shot heard round the state, as the Spartans defeated two-time defending A-Sun champion Belmont, 79-78, on Saturday afternoon at the Hodge Center. It wasn't something that was uncommon to Craig in just his second season in the Hub City. After all, it was Craig's acrobatic lay-up with less than 20 seconds to play and the shot clock winding down that allowed the Spartans to post a 50-48 win over Ohio Valley Conference participant Jacksonville State earlier this season.
Craig was held to a meager five points in the opening half against the Bruins, but exploded for 17 second-half points to help Upstate to the one-point win. He finished the contest going 7-for-11 from the floor (4-6 3FGs) and connected on 4-of-5 from the charity stripe. Additionally, he added six boards to his complete effort in the victory.
Craig leads the Atlantic Sun averaging 17.9 PPG and ranks second in overall rebounds per game, grabbing 7.9 caroms per contest.Craig put in a workman-like effort for the Spartans in Tuesday night's 60-51 victory over Lipscomb, which helped the Spartans grab sole possession of second place at the midway point after being selected to finish ninth in the preseason in a poll conducted by the league's coaches, as he posted a double-double of 14 points and 12 boards. It marked his sixth double-double of the 2011-12 campaign.
It was the two things that Craig did in Saturday's win that will start getting the attention of NBA scouts if not already, as he followed Adrian Rogers' potential game-winning shot, grabbed the carom off the front of the rim, and put in the short jumper to easily deliver Upstate's biggest RPI win in now its fifth season as a Division I member.
Craig's athleticism and perimeter shooting rival any player in the state. Through two seasons at Upstate, Craig has knocked down 119 triples through his first two seasons and he sits 137 behind the school's all-time career mark of 255 treys set by Nathan Norman (1993-97) in 111 career games. His 51 triples this season ranks him second in the league to Lipscomb's Jordan Burgason, who has 63 triples this season.
Going into Friday night's game against East Tennessee State, Craig ranks second among Division I players in the state of South Carolina in scoring. Winthrop's Andre Johnson currently tops the state's Division players in scoring, averaging 18.0 PPG for the 8-13 Winthrop Eagles. Craig went for a career-high 29 points earlier this season against East Tennessee State and has scored 20 or more points in
For his efforts over the past week in helping Upstate to those two monumental league wins against Belmont (79-78) and Lipscomb (61-50), Craig was selected as the Atlantic Sun's Player of the Week. He helped Upstate become the first team to pick up back-to-back wins against the tandem of Belmont and Lipscomb since Jacksonville accomplished the rare feat back in the 2009-10 season. He finished the memorable week in Spartan lore nearly averaging a double-double, as he posted 18.0 PPG and 9.0 RPG in the two wins.
A Look At Friday Night's A-Sun Game of the Week:
East Tennessee State (10-9, 5-4 A-Sun) at USC Upstate (12-9, 6-3 A-Sun)
Over the past three games, USC Upstate has faced a trio of opponents, that coming into the week, was a combined 3-22 all-time against teams from the Volunteer State (Belmont, Lipscomb and ETSU) portion of the Atlantic Sun slate, however, with a win on Friday night against East Tennessee State, the Spartans could equal that previous four-year win total in one week.
ETSU enters Friday night's game, which can be seen regionally on Comcast Sports Soutesast (CSS) as the Atlantic Sun's Game of the Week, having lost back-to-back games to its Volunteer State counterparts, Belmont (70-82) and Lipscomb (65-73). Both of those losses for Murry Bartow's Bucs came on the home floor of the mini dome (aka MHSA Center).
The successive homecourt setbacks broke up a five-game winning streak by the Bucs, and dropped ETSU from tied for second to third place in the league standings, now a full game behind USC Upstate, who sits in sole possession of second as a result of its back-to-back wins coupled with the consecutive losses by the Bucs.
The two teams have already met once this season, with the Bucs taking an 88-73 win over the Spartans at the MHSA Center back on Jan. 4. ETSU led from wire-to-wire in the win, racing out to an 18-point halftime lead and never really were threatened the rest of the way. ETSU played one of its most complete games of the campaign, shooting 56% from the field, 50% from three-point range, and created 24 Spartan turnovers, including 12 off steals.
Six Buccaneers reached double figures in the meeting back in early January, with junior guard Sheldon Cooley leading the way with 20 points, while senior point guard Adam Solazzo contributed 18 points to the winning cause. Solazzo and Cooley were joined in double figures by junior center Lukas Poderis (14 pts), junior guard Jarvis Jones (11 pts), junior guard Marcus DuBose (10 pts) and senior combo guard Tommy Hubbard (10 pts).
Upstate was led by Craig's career-high 29 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the field, including 5-for-11 from three, while connecting on 6-of-8 foul shots. Craig was joined in double figures by junior forward Jodd Maxey and freshman shooting guard Mario Blessing, who each scored 11 points, while freshman point guard Ty Greene added 10.
The last time these two met at the Hodge Center (Dec. 5, 2010), Upstate recorded a program milestone win, with a 60-59 victory over the visiting Bucs in a packed Hodge Center for the dedication of the renovation project of the on-campus facility, recognizing Mrs. Dolores "Dodie" Anderson for her dedication of $4 million dollars. The win marked Upstate's most-significant league win to-date and also remains the lone win in nine previous meetings with the Bucs.
It's a matchup between a team looking to establish a tradition, in USC Upstate, and one that already has an established one, in East Tennessee State. The Bucs have participated in nine NCAA Tournaments, been ranked in the nation's Top 10 (1990-91 season), and have won a pair of Atlantic Sun titles (2008 and '09) since joining the league in 2005-06 after a long tenure in the Southern Conference where the program originally made its mark. However, it's Upstate that enters the contest with the higher RPI, as the Spartans are 25 spots higher (Upstate-170, ETSU-195) in the RPI as of Wednesday night, according to realtimerpi.com.
The Spartans continue to be led by Craig, who is averaging 17.9 PPG, 7.7 RPG, while he is joined in double-figure scoring average by point guard Ty Greene, at 10.3 PPG. Greene has been a key addition at the point, where he leads the club with 47 helpers on the season.Ricardo Glenn, a second-year player just like Craig, has made his presence known in the paint this season, and ranks second on the team in field goal percentage this season, connecting on 51.5% from the field.
Craig and teammate Babatunde Oluyiwima (6.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG) have both been key on the defensive end this season, with each having blocked 24 shots,as the duo is tied for eighth in the league in blocks this season. First-year players Jodd Maxey (7.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG), Mario Blessing (4.8 PPG, 46 assists/second on team) and Adrian Rogers (7.3 PPG, 1.9 APG) have all been key in helping the program improve its 2010-11 win total by seven games, with nine games remaining in the regular season.
ETSU enters the contest led by four players averaging in double figures, with Adam Solazzo leading the way, averaging 15.7 PPG. Solazzo has picked up plenty of the slack this season, and has become the team's offensive leader with the graduation of 2011 Atlantic Sun Player of the Year Mike Smith. Solazzo has been solid this season, and is beginning to put himself in an elite class of former ETSU greats that ran the point, such as Keith "Mister" Jennings (1988-91), Courtney Pigrim (2006-09) and Tim Smith (2002-05). Solazzo comes into Thursday night's contest averaging 4.9 assists-per-game to rank third in the Atlantic Sun this season.
Joining him in double-figure scoring average entering Thursday evening's important league tilt are: Marcus Dubose (11.1 PPG, 2.6 RPG), Tommy Hubbard (10.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG) and Isiah Brown (10.5 PPG,6.3 RPG). Sheldon Cooley (9.5 PPG, 2.8 RPG) leads the league in steals this season, with 44 thefts total on the campaign, averaging 2.2 SPG.
In regular-season play, the Bucs have not dropped three-straight games to Atlantic Sun opponents in the same season since ETSU's inaugural season as a league member in 2005-06, when the Bucs lost four consecutive regular-season games to close the campaign: Gardner-Webb (64-69), Florida Atlantic (87-93), Lipscomb (56-76) and Belmont (78-99).
Where Craig Stands In The Palmetto State (As of Jan. 25, 2012)
Top Five Division I In South Carolina In Points Per Game
1. Andre Jones, Winthrop (18.0 PPG)
2. Torrey Craig, USC Upstate (17.9 PPG)
3. Mike Groselle, The Citadel (17.4 PPG)
4. Antwaine Wiggins, College of Charleston (16.6 PPG)
5. Kevin Giltner, Wofford (16.1 PPG)