I wasn't exactly sure what kind of basketball game I would going to when I went to the Convocation Center to watch the non-conference game between Kennesaw State and South Carolina State. I was figuring this would be a messy game between two rebuilding programs. Boy, was I wrong about that. Here is a little background on the schools that were coming in.
I know a few things about Kennesaw State, being from Atlanta, and having gone to school in-conference at Belmont. Firstly, is that while the students may not take the athletics seriously (only four students turned out, not including the pep band, the cheerleaders, or the dance team), the school does. The administration recognizes the fact that to move from commuter school afterthought in the shadow of Georgia Tech and University of Georgia to a more attractive alternative institution they need the athletics department to reach for more success than one Men's Basketball Division II National Championship. They have taken a few positive steps to further this goal. They have started a Women's Volleyball team, built a new soccer stadium that is hosting the Women's College Cup Final Four next weekend, and they are going through the process of examining whether or not football is a sport that should be added (Don't sell your souls guys).
Part of the increased pressure to succeed saw the end of Tony Ingle's eleven year tenure as coach. He wasn't the only causality in the Atlantic Sun over the past couple of years. Stetson, Florida Gulf Coast, North Florida, Mercer, and Jacksonville have all seen coaching shifts in the past few seasons to try and better their fortunes against the likes of Belmont and ETSU. Lewis Preston was selected as the new head man to bring the Fighting Owls from Atlantic Sun obscurity and rebuild a program that had finished no better than fifth in the Atlantic Sun under Ingle.
South Carolina State has been more successful over the past five years. However, the two years they finished in the top three were the years of the Morgan State Bears dynasty. The Bulldogs improved in each of Coach Tim Carter's first three seasons, but took a dip last year, winning only six games against Division I opponents after losing eight seniors from the previous year. With a year under the belt of a lot of new players, perhaps these Bulldogs will improve. They had already beaten Gardner-Webb earlier this season, and in the process winning more non-conference games against Division I teams than it did last year (All of the Bulldogs four non-conference wins were against non-DI opponents last year).
I arrived on time for the game outside, but was stuck in line for tickets. In their attempts to attract more people to basketball games, Kennesaw State whipped up a Groupon deal, which brought far more fans than I thought would be interested in a mid-major, non-conference basketball game. I didn't arrive at my seat until the first media timeout, when it was already 9-6 South Carolina State.
The first half was all South Carolina State. South Carolina State used Kennesaw State turnovers to fuel a twelve point halftime lead 34-22. Both teams were playing aggressive defense in the first half, South Carolina State switching between a 1-3-1 zone, 2-3 zone, and man-to-man defense. It was so frustrating for Coach Preston of KSU that he was warned twice by the officials, once for being out of the coaching box, and another time for unsportsmanlike conduct. It was a real wonder he didn't get a technical.
The second half was a completely different story. Spencer Dixon of Kennesaw State must have had a change of heart in the locker room during Halftime, because he took over from behind the arc. The Owls as a team woke up before the first media timeout, outscoring the Bulldogs 15-4 to pull within one, 38-37. From there is was frantic. Dixon kept knocking down three after three. He finished the second half with five three's which helped get the Owls up by as many as six with 5:22 left to go. The Bulldogs didn't flinch. Their offense was patient, waiting for good shots. South Carolina State didn't turn the ball over the last 13:28 of the second half. Brandon Riley and Omar Sanders helped the 'Dogs erase the gap towards and gave the last shot to Kennesaw State. The last shot from Kennesaw State was a pretty poor possession. They got it to Markieth Cummings (who had a good game, scoring twenty), but his last second jumper and Aaron Anderson's tip attempt both rimmed out. It was to be decided in Overtime. It turned out to be a pretty good deal for the folks who purchased their tickets on Groupon.
The Overtime sessions were almost a completely separate game in and of themselves. The defense was appalling at times. Both teams had excellent open looks and each team traded leads throughout. After an Aaron Martin make to put the 'Dogs up one with fifty-eight seconds on the clock, Coach Carter called for a timeout to set the defense. It worked, as Cummings turned it over. On the ensuing fast break, Aaron Martin was fouled by Delbert Love, which finally put South Carolina State in the bonus (one and one). Martin made both to put the 'Dogs up three with twenty-five seconds left in the Overtime period. However, Spencer Dixon came down the floor after a KSU timeout and drilled a three with seven seconds to tie it. Khalif Toombs last second jumper was off target and a second overtime was needed to separate the sides.
The second overtime belonged to Omar Sanders Shaquil Barber of South Carolina State. They took over in the paint. Kennesaw State couldn't find an answer to them in the paint and the South Carolina State lead swelled to five. The Owls didn't go away as they came back to go ahead one with 1:57 on the clock. Barber and Sanders both kept scoring in the paint, Barber converting a three point play on the next play and Sanders scoring after a Dixon missed three pointer. Romain for Kennesaw State hit a layup, but from their South Carolina State kept on getting easy baskets. Combined with quick missed layups and three pointers from Dixon in the final thirty seconds allowed the 'Dogs to go up eight with nine seconds left. A dunk from Brandon Dawson from Kennesaw State gave the final margin of 104-98.
As I said before, the defense was quite bad in the overtime period. They only managed to score sixty-nine a piece in the forty minutes afforded to them in regulation, but South Carolina State scored thirty-five and Kennesaw State twenty-nine in only a ten minute time frame.
I believe the take-away from this game is that while both teams have a little ways to go, both teams are on the rise. Kennesaw State under Lewis Preston looks like they are going to be playing up-tempo, pressing basketball team. They defend reasonably well and have play-makers. South Carolina State look good for their four wins thus far. One can already tell that you are not watching another ten win team, but an up-tempo team that will be able to compete in the MEAC come conference season. Although I would be late to watch the second game of my Atlanta doubleheader, it was well worth it.
SOUTH CAROLINA STATE 104, at KENNESAW STATE 98 11/26/2011
SOUTH CAROLINA STATE 4-2 (0-0) -- O. Sanders 12-18 3-4 28; P. Bell 6-9 0-0 12; B. Riley 10-23 2-2 25; K. Toombs 3-8 0-0 7; S. Barber 7-16 1-1 15; A. Martin 3-6 7-7 14; L. Radovic 1-1 0-0 2; D. Joint 0-2 1-1 1; J. Ikhinmwin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 42-83 14-15 104. KENNESAW STATE 2-3 (0-0) -- S. Dixon 10-21 0-0 26; D. Love 7-10 4-6 22; A. Anderson 6-8 1-5 13; M. Cummings 8-14 4-4 20; R. Henry 2-7 2-2 6; A. Osemhen 0-0 0-0 0; N. Turner 3-6 0-0 8; B. Dawson 1-3 1-2 3. Totals 37-69 12-19 98.
Three-point goals: SCST 6-24 (K. Toombs 1-3; S. Barber 0-4; B. Riley 3-8; O. Sanders 1-4; D. Joint 0-1; A. Martin 1-4), KENN 12-27 (M. Cummings 0-1; S. Dixon 6-13; R. Henry 0-3; N. Turner 2-4; D. Love 4-6); Rebounds: SCST 36 (O. Sanders 13), KENN 30 (A. Anderson 12); Assists: SCST 18 (P. Bell 4), KENN 19 (D. Love 8); Total Fouls -- SCST 21, KENN 20; Fouled Out: SCST-B. Riley; KENN-D. Love.