3 Key SoCon Games Highlight Thursday Night's Slate

John HooperCorrespondent IIJanuary 17, 2013

3 Key SoCon Games Highlight Thursday Night's Slate

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    College of Charleston (12-5, 4-1 SoCon) at Georgia Southern (7-10, 1-3 SoCon)

    Jan. 17, 2013, 7 p.m. (EST)

    Statesboro, GA, Hanner Fieldhouse (5,000)

    Historical Look At The Rivalry: 

    Not only will Thursday night's clash between Georgia Southern mark the last regular-season Southern Conference meeting between Georgia Southern and College of Charleston at Hanner Fieldhouse. It will also mark a huge game in the Southern Conference South Division, which is especially true after Georgia Southern's 70-57 win over Davidson on Monday night that snapped a 12-game losing streak against the Wildcats.

    For the Eagles and Cougars, Thursday night's clash will mark the 46th all-time meeting between the two programs, with College of Charleston holding a 27-18 all-time advantage.

    Georgia Southern and College of Charleston have been longtime rivals in two conferences, first forming a rivalry when the two were members of the Trans America Athletic Conference, which became the Atlantic Sun.

    The Cougars and Eagles resurrected that rivalry as Southern Conference members after the Cougars joined the league as an official member in 1998-99. Now, College of Charleston is in its swan song in the SoCon before leaving for the Colonial Athletic Association next season. 

    The College of Charleston has owned the series between the two programs as of late, claiming nine of the last 10 meetings between the two programs. Georgia Southern's 64-58 win at Hanner last season snapped an eight-game winning streak by the Cougars.

    Both clubs enter the matchup after high-profile wins, with Georgia Southern having knocked off Virginia Tech out of the ACC, while CofC had early-season wins over the Big 12 member Baylor and Boston College out of the ACC.

    Memorable Matchup:                                                             

    Georgia Southern 71, College of Charleston 68

    (Jan. 9, 2006)

    STATESBORO, GA—In front of nearly 3,500 fans inside the rowdy friendly confines of Hanner Fieldhouse, Georgia Southern took what would prove to be a major step towards the 2006 Southern Conference South Division regular-season title, with a 71-68 come-from-behind win over the College of Charleston, notching a seventh straight win and a 17th-straight win in front of the Hanner Hooligans.

    The Eagles would find themselves behind as many as 16 points twice in the opening frame, as the Cougars held leads of 28-12 after a Dontaye Draper triple, and 32-16 after a David Lawrence jumper. 

    However, Georgia Southern would chip away at the lead and finished the opening frame by going on am 11-2 run to close to within seven points, at 34-27, at the halftime break.

    In the second half, the Eagles would forge their first tie of the game, at 48-48, on a basket by Will Dunn and after CofC junior forward Renardo Dickerson gave the Cougars a 50-48 lead on the ensuing CofC possession, Dunn would answer, tying the game at 50-apiece with a little less than 10 minutes left.

    With 8:48 remaining in the game, Dunn would slam it home from the baseline, giving the Eagles a 52-50 lead—a lead which GSU would never relinquish.

    Donte Gennie's triple would extend GSU's lead to five (55-50) and over the next few minutes, the Eagles would maintain a three-five point advantage until the Cougars trimmed it back to two (62-60) on a pair of Draper free throws with 4:13 remaining. The Cougars would get within a possession one more time with a Lawrence's second-straight dunk, making it a 71-68 game inside the final minute.

    After Dwayne Foreman missed a pair of free throws for the Eagles with five seconds left, CofC guard Ryan Scott rebounded the second miss, but teammate Drew Hall would turn over the basketball to GSU forward Louis Graham, who would secure the basketball against his chest to run out the clock and secure the Eagles' program record-tying 17th-straight home win at Hanner. 

    The Eagles were led in the contest by Southern Conference Player of the Year Elton Nesbitt, who finished with 18 points, while the Cougars got a game-high 21 points from Draper in the losing effort. 

    (Research Assistance For The Above Game Was Provided By Savannah Morning News 1/10/2006)

    Quick Glance At The Matchup: After Monday night's 70-57 win over Davidson in front of what was an energetic home crowd at Hanner Fieldhouse, Georgia Southern head coach Charleton Young and his Eagles have a chance to make even more ground with another home test against the College of Charleston. 

    The Cougars have looked good in their past two games, getting a narrow 73-69 win over The Citadel on Monday night, while getting an 86-59 win over Chattanooga last Saturday.

    The Cougars come into Thursday night's important Southern Conference clash having been very inconsistent under first-year head coach Doug Wojcik, but appear to be back on the uptick again heading into the South Division clash with the Eagles on Wednesday night.

    The Cougars have wins in the non-conference over the likes of Baylor and Boston College, but have lost games to Division II Anderson and to Samford on the home floor this season. Samford had never beaten the Cougars since joining the SoCon in 2008, until beating the Cougars last week.

    Leading the way for the Cougars this season has been a trio of double-figure scorers, with one of those players averaging in double figures entering Thursday night's as the reigning Southern Conference Player of the Week. 

    Two of those players that average in double figures this season for the Cougars will start in the backcourt this evening, with both Andrew Lawrence (13.9 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 4.1 APG) and Anthony Stitt (11.9 PPG, 3.2 APG, 2.9 RPG) accounting for two of those three players averaging in double digits this season for the Cougars. 

    Lawrence, of course, brings veteran leadership to that backcourt, coming off his Olympic appearance this past summer for the Great Britain National Team.

    In Monday night's win against cross-town rival The Citadel, Lawrence was able to post a game-high 21 points in helping the Cougars gut out a four-point road win. He needs just 18 points on Thursday evening to reach the 1,000-point plateau.

    Stitt, who was injured nearly the entire 2011-12 season, is having a season worthy of All-SoCon consideration. He currently ranks seventh in the SoCon in three-point field goal percentage (43.5%), while his 3.2 assists per game rank 10th in the league this season. He has scored in double digits in the past two games for the Cougars, including 14 points and five boards in CofC's win at The Citadel on Monday night.

    Adejhi Baru (10.4 PPG, 9.2 RPG), the SoCon's reigning Player of the Week, rounds out the starting trio in the starting five averaging in double figures. Baru is the highest-rated recruit in school history, and is starting to mature into the player that had so many schools seeking his services for four years.

    Baru leads the league in rebounding, and he put together three-straight double-double performances last week, including 16 points and 12 boards the last time out against The Citadel.

    Baru has had to log more minutes and shoulder more of the low-post scoring load with Trent Wiedeman's (7.3 PPG, 3.4 RPG) injury. Wiedeman continues to work his way back into playing shape since his injury, and will be a key player off the bench for the Cougars on Thursday against GSU.

    Joining Baru underneath the basket as starters in the frontcourt will be Willis Hall (7.2 PPG, 4.3 RPG) and Anthony Thomas (8.1 PPG, 4.9 RPG). Hall is one of the team's better shooters, connecting on 49.4 percent from the field and 55.6 percent from 3-point range. He will keep a defense honest with his ability to shoot the perimeter shot. 

    Thomas started his career at Appalachian State before moving on to Hutchinson Community College in Kansas and has now matriculated back into the Southern Conference for at least a season with the Cougars.

    He is one of the best athletes on the team, and one of the team's most versatile performers with his ball-handling abilities, as well as his ability to shoot the mid-range jumper. He is coming off a 10-point, four-rebound performance at The Citadel on Monday night.

    Off the bench, the Cougars will look to four primary players to be part of its rotation against the Eagles, with Nori Johnson (4.8 PPG, 1.8 RPG) and Theo Johnson (3.0 PPG, 1.8 RPG) as combo guards, while Wiedeman and Matt Sundberg (2.3 PPG, 2.2 RPG) will be key components in the front court.  

    The Cougars rank seventh in the SoCon in scoring offense (63.9 PPG) and second in scoring defense (62.1 PPG). The Cougars also rank third in scoring margin (+1.8), while ranking first in field goal percentage (44.2%), 3-point field goal percentage (37.8%), blocked shots (4.9 BPG) and rebounding margin (+5.1). 

    Georgia Southern comes into Thursday night's matchup with a team that has been explosive at times this season. They are also a team that has also proven to be a streaky-shooting club this season, but might just be hitting its their stride at just the right time. 

    The Eagles are young in the backcourt, and tag-teaming the point guard position so far this season have been C.J. Reed (11.5 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 3.2 APG) and Tre Bussey (10.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG). Cleon Roberts (7.9 PPG, 2.0 RPG) rounds out the starting trio in the backcourt, and stepped into the lineup and has done a nice job filling in for Jelani Hewitt, who was suspended the entire season by head coach Charlton Young. 

    Reed has proven to be a huge addition to the Eagles' backcourt this season after transferring in from Central Florida as a result of NCAA infractions.

    He was allowed out of his scholarship from Central Florida. Reed had planned on playing for the Golden Knights after playing for three years at Bethune Cookman, where he was the HBCU National Player of the Year after averaging 15.8 PPG in his senior season. He was one of the reasons the Eagles were able to end that 11-game skid against Davidson on Monday night, as he posted 16 points. 

    The front court for the Eagles will be comprised of Eric Ferguson (14.6 PPG, 7.6 RPG) and Kameron Dunnican (1.4 PPG, 1.9 RPG). 

    Ferguson is one of the best players and athletes in the Southern Conference and has a future in professional basketball internationally, and perhaps even in the NBA. The cerebral 6'7" junior is tied with CofC's Baru for double-doubles in the league this season, with five heading into Thursday's contest.

    Ferguson reached the 1,000-point plateau just before Christmas and was named the SoCon's Player of the Month for the Month of December. He is coming off a 14-point performance in the win over Davidson last time out and currently ranks third in the SoCon in rebounds (7.6 RPG) sixth in blocked shots (20) (1.2 BPG). 

    The Eagles have solid production coming off the bench with Marvin Baynham (4.4 PPG, 3.4 RPG) and Cameron Baskerville (4.0 PPG, 3.4 RPG) being the two most seasoned players off the GSU bench. The tandem gives GSU maybe the most depth and athleticism of any front court unit in the SoCon this season.

    Baynham is coming off quite the performance against Davidson on Monday night, providing 10 points off the bench for the Eagles in the 13-point triumph.

    As a team, Georgia Southern comes into Thursday night's South Division clash 10th in the Southern Conference in scoring offense (60.8 PPG) and third in scoring defense (64.0 PPG). 

    This should be a good one, but the confidence GSU gained from the win over Davidson, coupled with another rowdy crowd at Hanner Fieldhouse with classes back in session, should be enough to propel what looks to be a dangerous Georgia Southern team to a second straight Southern Conference win.

    Final Score: 65-58 Georgia Southern 

Furman Travels to Elon for Key SoCon Battle Thursday Night

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    Furman (4-11, 1-3 SoCon) at Elon (9-7, 2-2 SoCon)

    Jan. 17, 2012, 7 p.m. (EST)

    Elon, N.C., Alumni Gym (3,500)

    Preview:

    Fresh off a 69-65 win over Wofford on Monday evening, Furman goes on the road to face North Division member Elon in a key inter-divisional Southern Conference clash on Thursday night at Alumni Gym.

    For Elon, it is coming off an impressive 80-67 road win at Western Carolina on Monday evening to even its Southern Conference record, at 2-2. 

    Thursday night's meeting between the Paladins and Phoenix marks just the 13th all-time meeting between the two programs, with Elon holding an 8-4 all-time series edge. The two schools met just once last season, with Elon stealing a 77-70 win over the Paladins at Alumni Gym in both team's Southern Conference opener.

    Furman has struggled in games at Alumni Gym in past seasons, posting just a 2-5 record in the facility. 

    Elon is now in its fourth season under the direction of Matt Matheny, and are one of the teams many feel that should challenge for the North Division crown this season.

    The Phoenix are experienced and shoot the basketball well from the perimeter.

    Elon returned all five starters from a team that claimed the SoCon North Division's No. 2 seed, allowing the Phoenix to advance all the way to the Southern Conference semifinals last season before losing to eventual champion Davidson.

    Furman has been the "walking wounded" this season and young players have been asked to step up and sometimes play out of position to adjust to the rash of injuries that have hit the team.

    Jordan Loyd, the team's starting point guard coming into the season, is out for the rest of the season with a meniscus tear, as is Dominic Early, who was a key contributor on last season.

    Colin Reddick (11.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG), Furman's leading scorer, suffered a deep gash over his left eye and was forced to miss most of the second half of the win over Wofford. His brother, Charlie Reddick (8.2 PPG, 5.9 RPG), has been sidelined with a hamstring injury over the past three weeks.

    While playing through pain on Monday night, he was able to provide a gutsy effort, which included eight points and a team-leading nine rebounds. Both should be on the court on Thursday night against the Phoenix.

    Reddick will be joined in the paint by Kendrec Ferrara (7.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG), who is having an outstanding campaign for the Paladins in the low post and is coming off a career-high 17-point performance in the win over Wofford on Monday night.

    Ferrara is making a bid for All-Freshman honors in Southern Conference play this season, and now has six double-figure scoring games in his freshman campaign for the Paladins. 

    Furman has also gotten strong play out of its backcourt at times this season, with one of those occasions being on Monday night in the win over the Terriers.

    Furman received a combined 20 points from its two freshmen starters, in point guard Stephen Croone (8.5 PPG, 4.5 APG) and wing guard Larry Wideman (7.7 PPG, 2.3 RPG), who scored nine and 11 points, respectively, in the win over the Terriers on Monday night. 

    Croone continues to have an outstanding season at the point guard position for the Paladins this year, entering the contest ranked second in the league in assists.

    Wideman has given the Paladins another athletic presence in the starting lineup, and will be making his seventh start of the season against Elon on Thursday night. Wideman is also Furman's top perimeter shooter, having knocked down 22 triples this season.

    Bobby Austin (5.3 PPG, 2.7 RPG) has been one of the veteran leaders who has been a vital part of this team's chemistry this season. And though he's not a big-time scorer, he has the ability to provide the clutch shot if needed to do so.

    His only three points of the night in the win over the Terriers came with just 17 seconds remaining in the contest, extending a two-point (65-63) Furman lead into a five-point (68-63) advantage. 

    The Paladins have gotten some support off the bench this season, too, especially from senior forward Bryant Irwin (7.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG), who is a good inside-out threat for the Paladins. Irwin connected on five triples in a loss at SMU earlier this season. 

    In the only meeting with the Phoenix last season, Charlie Reddick had one of his better games as a Paladin guard, posting 22 points in the losing effort, while being joined in double figures by former Paladin post player Brandon Sebirumbi, who notched 11 points in the Furman setback. 

    Furman comes in ranking ninth in the SoCon in scoring offense, averaging 61.3 PPG. The Paladins rank seventh in the SoCon in scoring defense, surrendering 69.1 PPG. 

    Elon entered the season an experienced unit, with four returning starters, and has gotten off to a 2-2 start in Southern Conference play. Elon, however, remains one of the favorites to garner one of the top two seeds in the SoCon's North Division.

    Coming into Thursday night's contest, the Phoenix have three players averaging points in double figures, led by junior forward Lucas Troutman (15.1 PPG, 6.0 RPG). Troutman is certainly in the running for SoCon Player of the Year honors with the way he has been playing this season.

    Troutman has been simply sensational on both ends of the floor for the Phoenix this season, ranking sixth in the league in scoring, while leading the SoCon in blocks, with 35 swats (2.2 BPG) this season. Troutman finished on the verge of double figures against the Paladins last season, posting nine points in the 77-70 Phoenix victory. 

    Joining Troutman in the low post for Elon will be Ryley Beaumont (10.6 PPG, 6.6 RPG), who might be the most improved player on the team, and is the second of that starting trio averaging in double figures this season.

    Beaumont's 6.6 rebounds per game leads the team, and was one of four player in double figures in the 80-67 win at Western Carolina, posting 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting from the field and 1-of-4 from three-point range. He has the ability, as any of Elon's starting five has, of stepping out and hitting the perimeter shot, with 17 triples this season. 

    The starting trio in the Elon backcourt slated to start on Thursday night are Jack Isenbarger (14.4 PPG, 2.9 RPG), Austin Hamilton (7.4 PPG, 2.6 RPG, team-leading 52 assists) and 6-8 guard Sebastian Koch (8.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG).

    Isenbarger and Koch are two of the better perimeter shooters in the SoCon, ranking among the league leaders in made three-point field goals this season.  Isenbarger's 43 3-point field goals ranks third in the Southern Conference, while Koch's 34 triples ranks sixth among the league's leaders. Isenbarger finished with 16 points in the win the last time out against Western Carolina, while Koch added 15. 

    Coming off the bench, the Phoenix will look to shooting guard Tanner Samson (4.8 PPG, 3.1 RPG), while front court players Tony Sabato (2.1 PPG, 1.7 RPG) and Ryan Winters (2.6 PPG, 2.0 RPG) are among the first off the bench to provide depth in the low post. 

    As a team, the Phoenix rank fourth in the SoCon in scoring average (69.9 PPG), scoring margin (+4.4), assist/turnover ratio (1:2) and field goal percentage defense (40.6%). The Phoenix also rank second in the SoCon in 3-point field goals made per game (7.9), blocked shots (3.9 BPG) and assists (13.8 APG). Elon allows 65.4 PPG, which is fourth in the SoCon in scoring defense.

    Furman might keep this one close for a while, as the Paladins have been playing better as of late. But Elon's experience and talent will be the difference down the stretch, as the Phoenix pick up a second straight league win.

    Final Score Prediction: Elon 77, Furman 65

Surprising Samford Set to Battle Western Carolina for Division Lead

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    Western Carolina (7-10, 4-1 SoCon) at Samford (5-12, 3-1 SoCon)

    Jan. 17, 2013, 8:00 p.m. (EST)

    Birmingham, AL., Pete Hanna Center (4,500)

    Preview: When Bennie Seltzer took over the Samford basketball program last March following the dismissal of Jimmy Tillette, he inherited a basketball team that didn't garner all that much respect from the league's media the last few seasons, and it has shown in the preseason media voting the last several seasons. The Bulldogs were projected to finish last or next-to-last in the preseason voting at the league's annual basketball media day.

    While Samford's Princeton-style offense wasn't easy for opposing teams to prepare for, the Bulldogs seem to just be a player away from being the kind of the team that could be a force in the SoCon's North Division race. 

    Although the Bulldogs have an unimpressive 5-12 overall mark this season, they played what was an extremely challenging slate, which included the likes of current No.1-ranked Louisville, defending national champion Kentucky and perennial Big Ten power Wisconsin. 

    But you can throw those 11 losses out to non-conference foes this season and focus on the 3-1 conference record thus far. The Bulldogs have garnered wins over Georgia Southern (57-48), as well as sweeping through the Port City of Charleston by posting wins over The Citadel (69-65) and College of Charleston (62-57). 

    The win over the College of Charleston was the first over the school in Samford history. And going on the road and defeating one of the top teams in the league signaled to the rest of the league that the Bulldogs are going to be a factor in the SoCon this season—probably for the first time since their first season as a league member, when the Bulldogs found themselves in the SoCon Tournament Semifinals in Chattanooga. 

    One of those missing ingredients that the Bulldogs have added this season might also well be the top freshman in the SoCon, in post player Tim Williams (14.3 PPG, 7.2 RPG). No post player has taken the league by storm as Williams has since Kyle Hines' freshman season at UNC Greensboro in 2004-05.

    Williams obviously isn't the only player that has been a key element in Samford's recent success, as point guard Raijon Kelly (14.9 PPG, 3.7 APG) and Williams' classmate and position mate underneath the basket, Clide Geffrard Jr. (9.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG) have also been key in helping the Bulldogs try shed their old image and take up a new one this season.

    Kelly was the Southern Conference Player of the Week last week, and is shooting the basketball extremely well from the perimeter this season. In fact, he leads the SoCon in 3-point field goal percentage, connecting on 39-of-84 triples this season, for a blistering 46.4 percent clip from long range. His 39 3-pointers leads the team and ranks fourth overall in the SoCon. 

    Another huge boost the Bulldogs have gotten this season is the return of Tyler Hood (7.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG), who missed seven games with an injury. Hood was a SoCon All-Freshman pick a year ago, and is one of the team's hardest workers. 

    While Samford has been a surprise in some ways, so has Western Carolina.

    The Catamounts, however, were much more of a surprise last season—when they underachieved until the latter part of the season—before storming all the way to the title game only to lose in heartbreaking fashion in double overtime time to league favorite Davidson.

    It was a magical run towards the end of the season, which saw the Catamounts win seven-straight games before losing in the title game to the Wildcats. The Catamounts had to replace two key starters off that squad last season, but have been able to get off to a strong start in league play once again this season, with a 4-1 mark thus far.

    Western has claimed league wins over Furman (79-65), The Citadel (72-55), Appalachian State (70-64) and UNCG (62-59), with the only loss thus far through conference play came on Monday night to Elon (80-67). 

    The Catamounts are a guard-oriented team, which has been a staple of Larry Hunter-coached teams in Cullowhee. This season is no different, as Western has one of the top backcourts in the Southern Conference.

    The Catamounts could resemble the Phoenix Suns in the early 1990s under the direction of Paul Westhphal, with four guards leading the way and one post player.

    Though the Catamounts don't play quite the up-tempo pace that K.J., "Thunder" Dan Majerle, Cedric Ceballos and Charles Barkley did, the Catamounts do shoot a bevy of threes and do favor a transition game, averaging the fifth-most points (69.6 PPG) per game in the SoCon, while having shot 340 3-pointers this season, ranking third out of the 12-team conference. 

    Leading that talented quartet of guards for Western Carolina this season has been Trey Sumler (17.8 PPG, 4.4 RPG), who's a player that can score points in bunches, as evidenced by his career-high 32 points in the 13-point home loss to Elon on Monday night. His 17.8 PPG ranks as the second-highest scoring average in the league so far this season, while his 31 triples this season rank second on the team and 13th among the league's leaders. 

    Sumler is making a bid for SoCon Player of the Year honors, leading the team with 61 assists this season, while his 2.1 steals per game ranks second in the SoCon. 

    Joining Sumler in the four-guard offense on Thursday night will be Brandon Boggs (8.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG), James Sinclair (7.3 PPG, 4.4 RPG) and Mike Brown (3.9 PPG, 3.2 RPG). Boggs is the team's best perimeter defense and is an outstanding athlete, and will be making his 12th start of the campaign on Thursday night.

    The lone post presence for the Catamounts in the starting five will be Tawaski King (10.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG), who is picked up off his outstanding play in last year's Southern Conference Tournament, and is continuing to play great basketball this season. 

    The Catamounts have a couple of strong performers coming off the bench in forward Preston Ross (7.6 PPG, 4.2 RPG) and guard Tom Tankelewicz (10.0 PPG, 2.9 RPG). Tankelewicz's 44 3-point field goals made this season ranks him second in the league. Tankelewicz, however, has been a liability at times for his play on the defensive end of the floor, and that might be a something to watch against Samford on Thursday night.

    Thursday's meeting between the Catamounts and Bulldogs marks the 11th all-time meeting between the two, with WCU holding a commanding 8-2 edge in the all-time series, including having won three-straight. Look for Western to steal one on the road and rebound from Monday night's setback against Elon to move to 5-1 in league play. This should be the game of the night in the SoCon.

    Final Score: Western Carolina 81, Samford 78