Game #9-520: Furman Paladins at The Citadel BulldogsFebruary 28, 2013 7:05 pm
McAlister Field House
When I looked at my schedule for this late season Thursday game, I saw that my expectation was to head to a basketball game between The Citadel and Furman. This was a matchup I was not particularly thrilled to see. Like with going to seven games at Presbyterian this year, I have also been to McAlister Field House on the Citadel campus quite a bit this year. This would be my fourth time to a Citadel home game this season, and fifth time seeing the Bulldogs playing this year. My internship supervisor is a Citadel graduate and former student manager for the Bulldogs, and seeing a Citadel game gives me something to talk about with him. But other than that, I really do not care for much to seeing the Citadel play. The same is true for Furman, which I would be seeing for the fourth time this year and this time in an arena that charges for concessions. I considered instead driving two more miles into the city of Charleston to see the College of Charleston play Wofford instead. But between tickets and parking that would be ten dollars more, and I needed to save money for Championship Fortnight the following week. Plus, that game was already covered for the Hopping Cats by my teammate Joe Wright
. So someone had to go see the worst two teams in the Southern Conference, and I am somebody who is always up to the task for that.
When you get to this time of year, casual fans start to pay attention. But those casual fans will never unfortunately pay attention to teams like the Citadel and Furman. The Citadel, despite its Corps of Cadets and alumni base being very loyal to the school and its athletic teams, has a hard time getting excited for basketball. And Furman's attendance would likely be even worse if not for the fact that they have the cheapest concession prices in all
of sports. When ESPN published an encyclopedia for college basketball a few years back, Furman and The Citadel were listed as each other's biggest rival (even with both schools having a local SoCon rival, Wofford and College of Charleston respectably). But that rivalry only matters for American-style football, where both teams have been in the Southern Conference even dating back to when the SoCon was athletically prestigious.
Casual college basketball fans might be interested in a game that impacts a conference title race. You even get a lot of that on our side of the Red Line. Much of this site's readership was built up by Kyle from the mid-majors that do quite well. Kyle has mentioned before how the predictable pattern of this site's traffic: traffic picks up in March, with viewers largely coming from places that have high quality teams below the Red Line. Many TMM readers are also Butler fans, VCU fans, fans of Missouri Valley powers. But what if their program was to take a turn for the worse, and they became like Furman or the Citadel? What would those fans do? Would they stick with their teams, becoming increasingly frustrated with each loss? Would they lose interest in Our Game, and follow other sports instead? Or worse, would they become bandwagon fans of the most successful major conference school in their state? This is why I have always found that I respect the fans the most that actually go to the games and live and die by struggling mid-major teams. Those fans are very hard to find, even in our own community. The Citadel had one of their highest attendances of the season this evening for Senior Night at 2,046. Many Citadel games have barely over 1,000 fans. The dedicated fans at both The Citadel and Furman deserve respect for supporting teams that have never made the NCAA Tournament in my lifetime (in the Citadel's case, never). That is something that no casual fan could do.As I have written before, there is always something to play for
. But most teams are at least trying to get momentum going into conference play. Here we had two teams that would have no chance at all at winning the SoCon Tournament the following week in Asheville. All Furman could play for was to somehow catch the Bulldogs for no longer being the worst team in the conference. And The Citadel was playing to just to remain ahead of somebody. It was a fight just to see who would suck less
. That probably draws the laughter of the schools' more successful SoCon counterparts, and why casual Citadel and Furman fans are simply waiting to see helmets crashing into each other in six months or already watching baseball. But that is what we had to play for here. And of course to get a win, something neither team has done much of. Furman had only six wins so far (one being over NAIA Southern Wesleyan
), and the Citadel had seven (two of which were against non-D1 opposition). So this was a big opportunity for both teams.
The Citadel had the advantage here in playing at home, and they had also ready beaten the Paladins earlier in Greenville. But at the beginning of the game, I saw a retweet by my teammate Joe Wright
from a local television reporter who said that Furman was only dressing seven players. I had a hard time believing that, so I then looked over at the Furman bench. Yes, there were really only seven players this evening for a Division I team in Furman! And to make matters worse, Furman really did not like using this bench. By which I mean they hardly used it at all. Furman's starters were Bobby Austin, Kendrec Ferrara, Bryant Irwin, Colin Reddick, and Larry Wideman. Early in the game Kevin Chuisseu played one minute for Reddick, and late in the game Aaron O'Neill played one minute for Wideman. Reddick and Wideman otherwise played the entire game, as literally did Austin, Ferrara, and Irwin. Furman's bench combined for a whopping two minutes combined and no points. The only stat registered to the Furman bench was a foul on Chuisseu.
I thought the lack of depth could not get worse for a Division I team than when Utah Valley only suited up nine guys for the Dr. Pepper Classic in Chattanooga
. I have seen weaker depth before. When I was helping out with USC Sumter basketball in its lone season, the women's team entered the season with only ten players. Junior college basketball often has a hard time drawing in female athletes, and there were few resources to help them with as most of the coaching staff for the women's team also coached the men's team. And then when two players left mid-season and two more got injured, the team was left with six players and only one player to sit on the bench at a time. Every time a player was shaken up, you became concerned how much longer the team could keep going. The coaching staff had to adjust as well, as early in the season (particularly when they were coaching the men) they played a high-tempo game that frequently got them in foul trouble. But there was no margin of error for them with six players. And that would also be the case for Furman this game as well. Earlier in the season, I saw a game between Campbell and Division II Newberry that had an enormous amount of fouls
. Newberry that game had 35 fouls. If Furman this game were to commit 35 fouls, that would be on average of five fouls per player dressed out... and you know what that would mean. As much as I hated that Newberry-Campbell game, I wanted to see something similar happen here. I wanted to see something like what Chuck Klosterman wrote about for Grantland
, where he saw a junior college team in North Dakota make the winning basket with only three players left on the court. I wanted to see a short-handed Furman team provide the ultimate underdog story in this game of underdogs, where the Paladins would somehow pull off late game dramatics with only a few guys left huffing and puffing down the court. But this was not a particularly physical contest, so we did not get that. Both teams only committed 12 fouls this game, with Austin and Wideman having the most for Furman with three each. But that was not to say a small bench would not be an issue. When Reddick went back to check in again for Chuisseu, that left O'Neill sitting as the lone player on the Paladin bench.
And with that, we had a real underdog story. Furman was an underdog trying to overcome adversity as they faced off a team that badly out-manned them. And that big mighty Goliath the Paladins were facing was a team that entered the game at 4-12 in the SoCon. Could the Paladins do it? Early on, it looked as if they could. A layup and free throw by Reddick gave the Paladins a 10-8 lead eight minutes in. After a couple superhoops by Ashton Moore for the Bulldogs, the Paladins responded with shots by Wideman and Irwin to go up 15-14. It was not a high scoring game, as neither team attacked the basket much. This favored Furman, which of course could not afford to do so. But Furman could not get shots from outside to make up for not being able to attack the basket. And when Dylen Setzekorn came off the much deeper Citadel bench to make two superhoops in the final two minutes of the half, the Citadel had a 30-22 halftime lead. Furman could have used better outside shooting to make up for a lack of size and depth if just one player could get hot. But in the first half it was the Bulldogs who had the three.
Furman did find their shooting touch, and used that to stay in the game. Both Irwin and Austin had good shooting games. Furman battled hard in the second half, keeping the game close at times. The Paladins cut a 13 point deficit early in the second half to three with eight minutes left. But the Bulldogs had more life in the final eight minutes, in large part because their starters were not needed for a combined 198 minutes. The Citadel was fresher, and had an option to attack the basket with big man Mike Groselle. Groselle has been the team leader for the Bulldogs the last couple years, and would make sure to finish his career at McAlister Field House strong. Groselle scored 24 points as the Bulldogs would roll over the seven Paladins to pull away late for a 68-57 win.
It might not have been the quality basketball game casual fans would look for. But I was happy that I was able to find a basketball game that was quite interesting. Teams at the bottom of their conference are facing adversity, and barely having any bench available is true adversity. I do not know what caused Furman to have such a short bench. I have seen it at the women's junior college level, but did not expect to see this from a Division I men's team. Furman has 15 players on their roster
. How could over half their team be either absent or in street clothes? Did Furman get hit that bad with injuries? Furman had both Reddick's brother Charlie as well as Stephen Croone back for the Southern Conference Tournament where they would pull off a big a first round upset over Samford. Seeing teams fight through tough stretches is what can make any game fun. I am not a Furman fan, but I can relate to what they are going through considering my school has never made the NCAA Tournament in men's or women's basketball or baseball in 12 years of full Division I status even without football. These are the games that we often forget about this time of year during March Madness, but are the games we must appreciate the most.
at THE CITADEL 68, FURMAN 57
FURMAN 6-22 (3-14) -- K. Ferrara 2-7 0-0 5; B. Irwin 4-7 1-2 12; B. Austin 3-11 1-2 9; C. Reddick 5-10 4-6 14; L. Wideman 6-18 3-4 17; K. Chuisseu 0-0 0-0 0; A. O'Neill 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-53 9-14 57.
THE CITADEL 8-20 (5-12) -- M. Groselle 12-19 0-0 24; M. Harris III 1-7 2-2 4; M. Van Scyoc 2-7 2-2 7; D. Setzekorn 4-5 0-0 11; S. Elmore 1-3 0-0 2; A. Moore 2-4 0-0 6; J. Jenkins 0-0 0-0 0; Q. Marshall 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-46 4-4 54.
Three-point goals: FURM 8-20 (B. Austin 2-5; B. Irwin 3-4; L. Wideman 2-10; K. Ferrara 1-1), CITA 6-15 (M. Harris 0-3; A. Moore 2-3; D. Setzekorn 3-4; M. Van Scyoc 1-5); Rebounds: FURM 30 (C. Reddick 10), CITA 23 (M. Groselle 10); Assists: FURM 9 (B. Austin 4), CITA 13 (M. Harris 9); Total Fouls -- FURM 12, CITA 7; Fouled Out: FURM-None; CITA-None.
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