Game #9-372: Elon Phoenix at The Citadel BulldogsJanuary 26, 2013 2:05 pm
McAlister Field House
Initially, I had planned on this final Saturday of January attending a South Carolina basketball game against Arkansas, and then going from there to see Wofford play College of Charleston. But the last time I saw South Carolina, they lost at home to a bad Auburn team. Why would I want to continue to watch that? What most factored into my change of plans however was when South Carolina State decided to move its weekend start times for men's home games in MEAC play from 4 to 6 PM. I then decided first I was going to switch my evening game from Wofford to South Carolina State. A ticket at SC State would be three dollars less and would save well over a hundred miles worth of gas. But as I wrote my recap "More of the Same"
on seeing both South Carolina and Presbyterian over and over again, I decided that I could do better than watching bad Gamecock basketball. I would instead switch my afternoon game from South Carolina to The Citadel, and see better mid-major basketball.
Of course, within mid-major basketball Citadel basketball does not rank too high. The Bulldogs entering this game with Elon had a record of 4-14 and 1-7 in SoCon play. The Citadel has won only two games against Division I opponents coming in: their season opener at home against VMI in the All-Military Classic (attended by Matt Cayuela
) and the previous weekend on the road against Georgia Southern. This poor record Division I play gave the Bulldogs one of the worst RPIs in the country (at one point, it was THE worst of 347 Division I teams). Would this really be a good alternative to South Carolina basketball? And the answer of course is yes. South Carolina's Colonial Life Arena is not quite as over-the-top professionally run as the Greensboro Coliseum
is, but it is much more so than the Citadel's McAlister Field House. McAlister Field House is a quite relaxing environment for college hoops, the kind of place that fits Hoops Nation well even with a capacity of 6,000 (large by the standards of mid-majors in the Southeast). The arena is always nearly empty, and it is a very no frills kind of place. In addition, as an outside observer I do not really care too deeply about the Citadel's struggles like I do with South Carolina. The Bulldogs could lose a heartbreaker or get crushed by 40 points. Either way, I really did not care too much. Of course, I also got tired of seeing bad basketball at Presbyterian, who I also do not care about aside from them being a Big South school. And the Citadel's lack of success parallels the Blue Hose enough the Bulldogs will play at Presbyterian in their BracketBuster matchup. But I have already seen the Blue Hose play five teams this year, and plan on seeing them two more times. I had not seen the Citadel since they played Air Force in the All-Military Classic final.
So this really would not be more of the same this time. And yes, I would then be going to South Carolina State which has the longest conference losing streak in the country. But I had never seen SC State play a MEAC game on the weekend, so that would also be something a little different even if I have been to Orangeburg a lot.
So it seems that we have quite a few bad basketball teams to deal with in the Palmetto State. There are many reasons for these problems here. The Citadel and Presbyterian are not very big schools for the Division I level, particularly Presbyterian. The Citadel also has the challenge of recruiting basketball players to a school known for its rigorous military training programs that all undergraduate students must partake in. South Carolina State is also a HBCU and has taken the worst of the economy, which has always been bad in this state even before the recent financial crisis. And then there is also the issue of American-style football. The three Division I schools without football (College of Charleston, Winthrop, and USC Upstate) have all had periods of relative success in basketball. But at the football schools, basketball takes a backseat to not just football but usually baseball as well (although not at SC State, the lone NCAA member institution in South Carolina without a baseball team). The Citadel's baseball team has been the only athletic program at the school to be competitive in SoCon play in recent years. Unfortunately, the older boosters at college athletic programs in this state have never been into basketball that much. And that is why our teams often struggle.
But when you actually watch The Citadel, you are left thinking, "this
team is considered to be one of the worst in Division I?" During the original 100 Games Project, Kyle talked about seeing the worst team in Division I according to the RPI
. That team back in 2005 was Maryland-Eastern Shore of the MEAC. Kyle talked about the perceived misconceptions one might have of the worst team in Division I. As Kyle said of the UMES Hawks, "While many might imagine the most awful team in the land to be a squad of overweight church-leaguers, it's just not the case. Their players are limber and athletic, and they make as many buckets in their pre-game shootarounds as everybody else."
Instead as Kyle said, you do not realize how bad they are until you see them play for a whole game. But with the Citadel, it can be hard at times to see how bad they are even watching an entire game. UMES would go on to lose that game Kyle saw by 26 points. On the other hand, the Bulldogs do not get blown out. Sure, they did have a bad stretch where they nearly had back-to-back 30 point losses to UNC Greensboro and Charleston Southern back in early December. And then they were demolished by a combined total of 113 points against St. Bonaventure, Georgia Tech, and Clemson over the Holidays. But going into this game, the Citadel has had a lot of close games at home in SoCon play but just could not win them. In the Bulldogs' three previous games at home prior to this game against Elon, they were only outscored by a combined total of 13 points and yet lost every game. In a game both Matt Cayuela
and Joe Wright
attended the Bulldogs nearly upset crosstown rival College of Charleston. The Citadel has guys who are pretty good basketball players, most notably a quality big man in Mike Groselle. The Citadel has a highly athletic guard in Marshall Harris and a pair of solid shooters in Adam Van Scyoc and Ashton Moore. Groselle, Moore, and Harris you would think by watching them play could form the nucleus of a great basketball team. But the Citadel does not have great depth, and in this game the bench combined for only 33 minutes of playing time and only a combined four points scored among five non-starters. The players who do play look good at basketball, because they are. They just do not get enough help, and therefore cannot close out wins most of the time. Elon could not look at this game as a pushover, or else they might lose.
When I saw Elon earlier this year, I saw them beat South Carolina
. That provided me more motivation to go to this game rather than the USC game, because I would see a team that had proved themselves better at a lower price. It should also indicate that Elon should win here, because even a really bad SEC team should be better than a team like the Citadel near the bottom of the SoCon. But the big difference between the Gamecocks and Bulldogs are far as the Phoenix were concerned was Groselle. Groselle is a bigger and stronger physical presence inside than anybody South Carolina has. Lucas Troutman was able to dominate USC inside going up against what might be the weakest frontcourt above the Red Line. But here Troutman would be countered by Groselle. And this would keep the game close early. Elon's lead was only 16-14 at the second media timeout. The Phoenix would outplay the Bulldogs most of the half, but never got out on an overpowering run. Troutman was able to make some shots, only to be countered by Groselle. And even Troutman's shots that went into the basket could get stuck there.
But Elon gradually got out to what appeared to be a decent lead going into halftime. Elon had an 11 point lead with two minutes until halftime, but the Bulldogs chipped away again. And just when Elon appeared to go back to a double digit halftime lead, Jack Isenbarger's superhoop attempt was off and P.J. Horgan passed the ball to Harris who knocked down a 55 footer to end the half. The crowd finally had something to go wild about, and my Hopping Cats teammate Joe Wright
asked me if this could make SportsCenter. I thought it certainly could, but the amount of footage available from a non-priority SoCon game would probably make it less likely since it was not a game winner. The Citadel's video of the shot is taken from behind the baseline, and can be seen here
. I would have liked to see a replay taken from midcourt of the shot. To visualize where Harris' shot was, here is my picture of Harris as he was following through with his shot from behind halfcourt.
The obvious question now was: could this be what the Bulldogs needed for momentum? Elon was being forced to take a lot of outside shots with Troutman closely guarded. If those shots did not fall, the Citadel might finally be getting that upset win. And like it was in the first half, Elon could never quite pull away. But also like the first half, the Bulldogs could never pull ahead. Isenbarger was always ready to hit a shot when needed, finishing with a game-high 22 points. Elon had just as little production off the bench as the Citadel did, but their offensive attack was more evenly distributed amongst their starters. The Citadel was able to find another big scorer in Matt Van Scyoc, but could not get Harris to catch fire after his big shot at the end of the half while Moore never got going. The Phoenix gradually pulled away, although the Citadel was never getting blown out. P.J. Horgan made his only attempted superhoop of the season so far at the buzzer, but that was only to make the final score look close. Elon won 70-66, a bit closer than it actually was, but a respectable outing from the home team.
The Citadel can play surprisingly good basketball and threaten against some of the mediocre teams in the Southern Conference. They were not that bad today. But they just could not win. But this experience proved to be beneficial for the Bulldogs, which have continued to improve and start to even win some SoCon games. The Citadel proved to be competitive, and it was not more of the same. As it turned out, South Carolina would get a rare easy win against Arkansas in the game I decided to not go to. Would it have been better to go to that game? Perhaps, especially compared to other Gamecock games lately. But the good thing about watching a team like the Citadel compared to South Carolina is that you know that it is unlikely for the Citadel to ever be good. The Citadel has too many disadvantages to win consistently at the Division I level. Maybe if starter C.J. Bray was healthy, things could being go better for the Bulldogs this season. Ed Conroy was more successful than most coaches who have come through the military school lately. But even when Conroy's famous cousin Pat played, the Citadel struggled. Yet the Citadel has players who are certainly capable of being competitive at the Division I level. And that is what makes the experience below the Red Line great.
ELON 70, at THE CITADEL 66
ELON 13-7 (6-2) -- J. Ingram 6-15 5-6 19; S. Koch 3-10 0-0 9; T. Samson 5-12 0-0 15; R. Beaumont 3-7 0-0 6; J. Isenbarger 8-16 2-2 22; L. Troutman 7-11 0-0 14; T. Sabato 0-1 0-0 0; R. Winters 0-0 2-4 2; J. Bonney 1-2 0-0 2; E. Edomwonyi 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-59 4-6 70.
THE CITADEL 4-15 (1-8) -- M. Van Scyoc 7-14 5-6 20; M. Groselle 8-11 4-5 20; M. Harris III 3-10 1-2 9; A. Moore 2-7 0-0 5; S. Elmore 1-1 0-0 2; J. Jenkins 0-0 0-0 0; D. Setzekorn 0-0 2-2 2; L. Miller 0-1 0-1 0. Totals 21-44 12-16 58.
Three-point goals: ELON 12-32 (J. Bonney 0-1; R. Beaumont 0-1; J. Isenbarger 4-11; S. Koch 3-7; T. Samson 5-12), CITA 4-17 (M. Harris 2-6; L. Miller 0-1; A. Moore 1-4; P. Horgan 1-1; M. Van Scyoc 1-6); Rebounds: ELON 27 (R. Beaumont 6), CITA 17 (M. Groselle 9); Assists: ELON 16 (J. Isenbarger 8), CITA 12 (M. Harris 7); Total Fouls -- ELON 17, CITA 8; Fouled Out: ELON-None; CITA-None.