Game #9-320: Appalachian State Mountaineers at Wofford TerriersJanuary 8, 2013 7:00 pm
Benjamin Johnson Arena
In recent seasons, Wofford has been better at basketball than Appalachian State. As I wrote about last year
, Appalachian State has been a school mostly focused on football. The basketball team has struggled most of the year, having lost by over 20 at home to High Point. The Mountaineers did come within five at South Carolina
, but the Gamecocks are not exactly a solid team above the Red Line. Wofford on the other hand had beaten Xavier, an Atlantic 10 team good enough in the past to have an exemption from being covered on this site until exemptions were done away with. Wofford came into tonight's game with a 6-8 record, while Appalachian State was 4-8. Wofford had a slightly better strength of schedule as well, and was playing at home. This should be a relatively easy Terrier win, right?
But that is why we come to the games. Just because one team appears to be the better team does not always mean that they will win. We see this all the time in baseball, where one team can get the breaks and have a few things go their way, and they will be in position to win. In soccer, a huge underdog can win if they get lucky with an early goal and concentrate on defending the rest of the match. It is all about being in the winning position.
So with that in mind, I made the somewhat long drive to Spartanburg to see Wofford play Appalachian State. While Appalachian State is mostly a football school, the same is mostly true for Wofford as well. The focus on football and declining resources for basketball is why the Southern Conference is not in a much better position than the Big South right now for postseason play. So even with two fairly recent Southern Conference titles, Wofford struggles to fill Benjamin Johnson Arena. Benjamin Johnson Arena is not one of the most modern facilities in our game either, being a slightly bigger version basically of Presbyterian's Templeton Center. The arena is attached to a student life building that contains an art gallery and campus dining facilities. It is multi-purpose in the way many mid-major facilities are in serving as both a facility for college basketball and as a place for Wofford students. The arena is a very simple structure inside, with 17 rows of bleachers and five rows of reserved seats. To walk in and out of the seating areas means that one has to enter the student life areas of the building for both concessions and restrooms, and you have to have your ticket re-scanned when you return to your seat. The atmosphere for the most part is low key, although Wofford's ushers do their best to protect the reserved seating. The result is that the bleachers away from the court can be pretty full, with the seats near the court itself often being empty. At least Presbyterian's end result with a similar structure does not look as silly.
The arena seats 3,500 officially, although I doubt that it can hold even 3,000. Attendance tonight was only 1,176, which is not too bad for Wofford even with their recent success. In comparing Wofford to Presbyterian, PC just happens to be the only Division I school with fewer students than Wofford. If every Wofford student came to the basketball game and brought one non-student with them, it would still be just short of a sellout. You just will have a hard time drawing at a school this small, especially without a state of the art arena. Spartanburg has a lot of other stuff going on for a city of 40,000 and a county of 200,000, including another growing mid-major team across town
But for those who did get to Benjamin Johnson Arena this evening, it would turn out to be a fantastic basketball game. Both teams played fairly well early, with the score being 13-13 at the second media timeout on 13 possessions. The first half went back and forth between the two teams, with Appalachian State holding a narrow 26-25 halftime lead. As is often the case with Wofford games, this would be a defensive struggle. Wofford seemed to be the better team at home most of the game. While Wofford did not have the players who led the Terriers to glory in the past like Noah Dahlman, Cameron Rundles, Kevin Giltner, Brad Loesing, Wofford still had solid players I recognized from last year including Lee Skinner and Karl Cochran. Wofford also has point guard Indiana Faithfull, who happens to be a native of Australia. But this would not be a game of star players, as nobody scored more than 13 points. What this game would be decided on is team play, particularly on defense.
Appalachian State surged to a nine point lead a few minutes into the second half. But that would not last long with Wofford taking the lead again with a 20-4 run. That run gave Wofford a seven point lead with eight minutes to play. It seemed that this would be a easy win for the favored team at home, right?
But Wofford might have gotten a little too comfortable. The tempo slowed down even more, and Wofford seemed to get tight on offense. Wofford at this point was playing not to lose. Over the next several minutes, the Mountaineers would scrap together some baskets, and Wofford would hardly get any. Spencer Collins, the leading scorer on the night with 13 points, made a shot to give Wofford a 49-44 lead with just under seven minutes left. After that basket, the Terriers would not score again. Appalachian State's offense did not respond by overpowering the Terriers. But unlike Wofford, ASU did manage a basket about once every two minutes. And that eventually gave Appalachian State a 50-49 lead with two and a half minutes to play. It was still obviously close, and Wofford still seemed to be in a good position at home as Appalachian State could not get the baskets to gain separation. But Wofford was also in no position to foul to slow down the game. Wofford happened to have played good clean defense most of the half. Avoiding fouls is something that good teams should
do. And Wofford had done the right things on defense all game long. But it also meant that Appalachian State was able to shorten the game by holding onto the ball for 30 seconds at a time in the final minutes. And when Wofford missed a running layup with five seconds left, it would take four fouls by Wofford to finally get the Mountaineers in the bonus. Somehow they did, but by that point there was only four-fifths of a second remaining. Appalachian State missed the free throw, and all Wofford had was a desperation 75 foot shot at the buzzer that would have likely been waved off even if it had gone in (it didn't come close). Wofford seemingly played a better game of basketball, and was at home. But it was Appalachian State who got the 50-49 win. Sometimes it is best to play yourself in the right position if you can't overpower your opponent.
As I mentioned in examples with baseball and soccer, this can happen in other sports as well. An American-style football team that plays smart can do the same through a solid but not overpowering rushing attack that keeps the ball away from its opponent while protecting a small lead. And this same strategy can work in other games as well outside of sports. The following evening rather than going to see Charleston Southern play Wofford, I instead decided to stay home and watch Jeopardy!
I have often found Jeopardy
a good show to watch as an alternative to sportz programming, but would not usually watch the show in lieu of attending more mid-major basketball. But I did anyway the night after this game, since one of the contestants was Kristin Morgan, who is the daughter of my dad's sister. I have never before seen someone I have a personal connection to of any kind on national television, so I decided to watch. In this game show, the returning champion was Ashok Poozhikunnel, who had won the last four games on Jeopardy!
But like Wofford, Ashok struggled more than he had been. Ashok did a good job of getting the questions to the answers right, but never got any momentum going like many show contestants do. And in Double Jeopardy Kristin managed to ring in more quickly, and the returning champion was clearly getting frustrated by Kristin beating him in responding correctly. I one time caught a glimpse on TV of Ashok practically pounding his fist with the buzzer on the podium as Kristin got in before him to deliver a correct response. But it turned out Kristin's biggest threat in the end would not come from the fading Ashok, but rather the other contestant in Brett Swartz. Brett was able to dominate the end of Double Jeopardy to take the lead going into Final Jeopardy. It was still close, and I anticipated that Kristin could still win if she got her response correct and Brett did not. The Final Jeopardy clue was "These two world capitals are separated by only 250 miles of land and less than 1 degree of longitude, at 59 17 N and 59 57 N. I correctly guessed that the correct response would be Oslo and Stockholm. But Ashok in third place took a wild stab with Seoul and Pyongyang, and lost everything. Kristin now had her chance, and guessed Copenhagen and was unable to come up with another city. At this point I turned off my camera recording the show, thinking it was over for her. But Brett was not able to come up with anything, and his wager was designed to cover Kristin doubling her amount. On the other hand, Kristin had instead wagered only to cover Ashok doubling his amount. And I then realized I had to turn back on my camera, as somehow Kristin backed into a win! Kristin's performance was similar to Appalachian State, which was to play just well enough to be in position to somehow snatch a win in the end.
Sometimes, it is better to be lucky than good. But really, what you actually need is to be good enough that with a little luck you can come out ahead. Had Wofford played more aggressively, they might have faded more quickly. At the same time, if Wofford had the lead having extra fouls to give would have allowed them to play more aggressive defense while protecting a lead. But somehow Appalachian State was able to get in position to win, and held on to a one point lead with two minutes left without really having to do much in the way of making free throws and getting many defensive stops as most teams who hold on do. Appalachian State only scored six points after trailing by five with over six minutes to play. But what should have been a positive for Wofford in avoiding fouls turned out to be a positive for Appalachian State, as it denied one last good opportunity for Wofford to get a game-winner. And in the Jeopardy
episode I watched, my cousin was able to somehow win a game where she was in second place going into Final Jeopardy without getting the correct response to the Final Jeopardy clue. That is the way games work sometimes, as well as life on the whole. You have to take advantage of what is given to you, and somehow keep going even when it does not look good with a little luck to go your way. Appalachian State was able to use this win to get them on a winning streak and get back towards the middle of the pack in the SoCon. Kristin with her win on her first Jeopardy!
would get to come back the next day. And after having thought seeing a relative on national television would only happen once, I still decided to go back to Spartanburg instead on Thursday and see USC Upstate play Florida Gulf Coast. I will talk more about my decision on that in my next recap.
APPALACHIAN STATE 50, at WOFFORD 49
APPALACHIAN STATE 5-8 (1-1) -- N. Healy 4-10 0-0 10; T. Hamilton 3-10 0-1 7; J. Canty 4-12 0-0 8; M. Neal 2-7 4-4 8; T. Baskin 5-12 0-0 10; M. Obacha 2-4 1-2 5; C. Burgess 0-1 2-2 2; J. Trice 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-57 7-9 50.
WOFFORD 6-9 (0-2) -- L. Skinner 2-8 6-8 10; S. Collins 5-12 2-2 13; K. Cochran 4-14 0-0 9; J. Gordon 2-4 0-0 4; I. Faithfull 1-1 0-0 2; J. Swinton 0-2 0-0 0; J. Byrd 2-4 1-2 6; A. Smith 0-1 0-0 0; C. Neumann 1-1 0-0 2; T. Wagener 0-0 3-3 3. Totals 17-47 12-15 49.
Three-point goals: APST 3-18 (J. Trice 0-1; N. Healy 2-6; J. Canty 0-1; T. Baskin 0-1; T. Hamilton 1-6; M. Neal 0-2; C. Burgess 0-1), WOFF 3-10 (K. Cochran 1-5; J. Swinton 0-1; J. Byrd 1-1; L. Skinner 0-1; S. Collins 1-2); Rebounds: APST 28 (J. Canty 9), WOFF 33 (L. Skinner 8); Assists: APST 8 (N. Healy 3), WOFF 9 (I. Faithfull 4); Total Fouls -- APST 15, WOFF 14; Fouled Out: APST-None; WOFF-K. Cochran.