Torrey Craig, Upstate Have Chance at Redemption in Atlantic Sun Home Opener

John HooperCorrespondent IIJanuary 9, 2013

Upstate's Torrey Craig dives for a loose ball against Florida Gulf Coast in the quarterfinals of the 2012 General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Basketball Tournament in Macon, Ga.
Upstate's Torrey Craig dives for a loose ball against Florida Gulf Coast in the quarterfinals of the 2012 General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Basketball Tournament in Macon, Ga.

Florida Gulf-Coast (11-6, 3-1 A-Sun) at USC Upstate (8-7, 2-0)

Jan. 10, 2013, 7:00 p.m.

Spartanburg, S.C., G.B. Hodge Center (1,000)

History Of The Rivalry

SPARTANBURG, S.C.--Thursday night offers an opportunity for the USC Upstate men's basketball program to offer a good showing with a victory in its first home conference game in front of what promises to be a healthy turnout of students and alumni packed inside the cozy confines of the G.B. Hodge Center Thursday night.

The opponent—Florida Gulf-Coast—also offers the Spartans what may be the most rewarding of opportunities in sports—redemption

Let's rewind to Feb. 23, 2012, with the venue being the same one in which the two teams will duke it out on Thursday night. 

Plenty was on the line for both the Spartans and Eagles.

Upstate had a chance to clinch a seed and a bye in the opening round of the 2012 General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Tournament. FGCU was just looking to qualify for the postseason tournament and, like Upstate, ended up doing so in its first season of eligibility following the NCAA's mandated four-year transition from Division II to Division I.

Preseason Player of the Year Torrey Craig's tomahawk jam as time expired set off wild celebrations in the crowd, as Upstate posted an 87-74 win over the Eagles to move on to the conference tournament in its first season of eligibility. Meanwhile, FGCU would have to wait on its status. After Mercer upended Lipscomb that same night, the Spartans knew they would be making the trip to Macon, GA., for the 2012 A-Sun Tournament. 

The Spartans had already claimed another meeting between the two earlier in the 2011-12 season, an 80-75 win at Alico Arena in Fort Myers. This time they used a school-record—in the Division I era—15 triples. Craig and eventual A-Sun Freshman of the Year Ty Greene each had career-high nights, with 30 and 22 points, respectively, thereby helping the Spartans to the 13-point win. 

As fate would have it, and despite losing their final two conference games, FGCU received some help in other league games, and the Eagles garnered the No. 6 seed for the tournament. This meant the Eagles would open the tournament in a Thursday night clash against No. 3 seed USC Upstate, setting up the unique scenario of two conference tournament rookies facing each other in the quarterfinals of the league tournament.

On Mar. 2, the Spartans and Eagles laced up once again as foes on the A-Sun hardwood, only this time there was much more at stake. This time it was a different FGCU team the Spartans encountered, and one that was tenacious on the defensive end of the floor. The Spartans simply sizzled from the perimeter en route to a 71-61 win at Mercer's Hawkins Arena/University Center. 

It was the beginning of a memorable tournament run for the Eagles, as the league tournament newbie made its way to the title game before running out of gas against former league power Belmont. It was a bittersweet end to what had been the most remarkable turnaround story in Division I college basketball in 2011-12, with the Spartans bowing out of the tournament with a 20-12 mark.

Upstate would, of course, get an invite to the Tournament, where it opened with a win over Kent State before bowing out in the next round with a loss at Old Dominion. 


In the A-Sun quarterfinal matchup between the two last season, in which the Eagles got their first Division I conference tournament win, FGCU placed five players in double figures and shot 47.4 percent (9-of-19) from beyond the arc, while holding Upstate to just 31.9 percent (22-of-69) from the field and just 23.8 percent (5-of-23) from three-point range. 

After seeing Craig post a career-high 30-point effort against them a little over a week earlier, the Eagles limited the A-Sun Player of the Year to just 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting from the field and 2-of-9 from three-point range. The Eagles were also able to frustrate Greene, who was held to 10 points on 3-of-14 from the field and just 1-of-6 from three. Greene had come into the contest leading the A-Sun in three-point field goal percentage, hitting at nearly 44.0 percent entering tournament play.

Meanwhile, FGCU was able to spread the wealth offensively in that quarterfinal win. The European connection of Christophe Varidel and Filip Cvjetcanin combined for 23 points (Varidel: 14 pts, Cvjetcanin: 11 pts) off the bench, including hitting six of the team's nine triples in the contest to give the Eagles offense a huge lift. 

Though the Spartans went on to extend their season with another first for the program, the sting of defeat in the opening round of the league tournament didn't wear off during the offseason. 

That Feb. 23 matchup last season was a vivid reminder of what college basketball is all about, complete with rowdy hecklers right behind the FGCU bench and their head coach, Andy Enfield.


Thursday night's A-Sun clash offers that opportunity for a team to right a previous wrong against a rival. That chance is summed up in one word: redemption.

Thursday night will offer the first of two opportunities this season for Upstate to capitalize on this opportunity, and 24 hours from now, we will know if redemption is indeed the order of the evening, or if the Spartans will again suffer defeat by an encore performance by the Eagles.


Notes You Need to Know

  • Upstate and Florida Gulf Coast will be facing each other for the 11th time in series history, with FGCU holding a narrow 6-4 edge. 
  • FGCU was picked to finish third in the preseason media and coaches' polls, while Upstate was picked to finish second in both.
  • FGCU's only loss was against league-favorite Mercer, which downed the Eagles 77-70 in overtime, avenging a 2012 A-Sun Semifinal Tournament loss (62-58) to the Eagles. 
  • FGCU claimed one of two wins for the league against ACC competition from the Sunshine State this season. The Eagles were 63-51 winners over Jim Larranaga's Miami Hurricanes. The other win for the A-Sun against a Sunshine State ACC foe was Mercer's 71-56 win over defending ACC Tournament champion Florida State.
  • FGCU head coach has a familiarity with ACC basketball, having served as an assistant under Leonard Hamilton for five years at Florida State and helping the Seminoles advance to the Sweet Sixteen twice during his time as an assistant coach in Tallahassee.
  • The Spartans are led in scoring by reigning and preseason A-Sun Player of The Year junior forward Torrey Craig (17.0, 5.9 RPG), who ranks second in the conference in scoring to Kennesaw State's Markeith Cummings and his 17.2 PPG average. In the season opener against Saint Louis, Craig became the fastest player in school history to 1,000 points, completing the feat in just 65 games.
  • Craig enters Thursday night's clash with the Eagles having scored in double figures in 32 of his last 36 games. He has scored double digits in 65 of his 79 career games.
  • Northern Kentucky completed the rare feat of holding Craig under double figures this season, becoming the only team to make that claim, as the Norse held the junior from Great Falls, S.C., to just six points. 
  • Craig has scored in double figures in 34 of 41-career games against conference foes. Two of the seven times Craig has been held under double figures scoring have come against FGCU. The only other current conference foe to hold Craig under double figures more than once in his career is Lipscomb. Craig also established one of his two career 30-point scoring performances in the 13-point win over the Eagles last season. He established a new career high with 31 points in a win earlier this season at the Hodge Center over Texas-San Antonio.
  • All-conference guard Ty Greene is the only other Spartan averaging in double figures in the starting five, posting 11.3 PPG, and his 31 triples this season rank him sixth in the league in three-pointers made. Craig ranks just behind Greene with 30 trifectas on the season, and the lethal perimeter-shooting duo have combined for 61 of the team's 97 three-point field goals through the first 15 games this season.
  • Upstate junior forward Ricardo Glenn has been a monster on the boards, as he comes in averaging a league-best 8.5 RPG this season. Glenn is also on the cusp of averaging in double figures, at 9.6 PPG. Glenn has four double-doubles this season to lead the club in that category, with his top performance being a 15-point, 12-rebound game in a late December win against Coastal Georgia. Glenn also ranks second in the A-Sun in field goal percentage, connecting at a sizzling 59 percent (59-for-100) this season.
  • Upstate has one of the deepest teams in the league, with the likes of Adrien Rodgers, one of the league's top sixth men, averaging 9.9 PPG. Forward Jodd Maxey (6.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG) has been the model of consistency since transferring in from South Carolina State a couple of years ago, and his athleticism and intangibles have been a vital part of the team's successes in that time. Maxey currently ranks second in the A-Sun with 22 blocked shots this season.
  • FGCU counters with a talented core of players of its own, including point guard Brett Comer (6.4 PPG, 3.4 RPG) and perimeter threats Bernard Thompson (14.4 PPG, 4.8 RPG ) and Sherwood Brown (14.0 PPG, 5.1 RPG). Forward Chase Fieler (10.5 PPG, 4.9 RPG) rounds out the Eagles' trio, averaging in double figures. Comer ranks second in the A-Sun in assists, dishing out 5.9 helpers-per-game, while Thompson leads the league in steals, with 3.9 thefts-per-game.  
  • Forward Eric McKnight (7.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG), who transferred into the program from Iowa State, is one of the most athletic players in the Eagles' lineup, and he comes into the matchup ranking third in the league with 24 rejections (1.4 BPG). Forward Filip Cvjetcanin (6.4 PPG, 3.4 RPG) ranks second in the league in three-point field goal percentage, having connected on 37.3 percent (22-of-59). 
  • Upstate has won 12 straight wins at the Hodge Center, spanning a full calendar year, with the last home setback occurring early last January against Mercer. The winning streak currently ranks fourth in the nation. 
  • Upstate and FGCU are the top two scoring teams in the A-Sun, with the Eagles leading the league by posting 71.6 PPG, while Upstate is just behind in second, averaging 70.9 PPG.

Final Prediction: Upstate 76, FGCU 72