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Southern Notebook

February 4, 2002 Conference Notes No Comments

Southern Notebook

Top ‘Cats
Although Davidson was upset at home by Western Carolina on January 26th, the Wildcats have still won seven of their last eight games after being throttled by Duke in Charlotte back in early January. The ‘Cats latest win came at the hands of Wofford on January 30th. Davidson turned back the Terriers 72-61 after a furious second-half rally. The Wildcats’ (14-6, 7-2) success can attributed to the play of big man Emeka Erege, who is averaging 13.6 points per game, and Michael Bree, whose scoring average (11.3 points per game) is preceded only by his leadership ability.

The Wildcats’ are atop the North division with the second place UNCG Spartans breathing down their necks. Davidson has a favorable seven game stretch remaining with games against conference bottom feeders VMI and Appalachian State, whom they play twice. However, the ‘Cats also have one more tilt with UNCG and a showdown with the South Division leading College of Charleston Cougars.

Power of the Sword
UNCG may be the second best team in the SoCo North, but on January 29th they proved they may the second-best team in the entire conference, beating South division leaders College of Charleston. It’s a win that has the Spartans feeling pretty good about themselves.

“In the past three years they’ve pretty much been the giant in the Southern Conference,” UNCG senior point guard Courtney Eldridge said. “Finally, we slayed the giant tonight.”

And slayed they did. The Spartans played defense as if they were boa constrictors, squeezing the life out of C of C, forcing the Cougars into shooting 33.9 percent from the field. The Cougars (76th in the RPI) are the highest ranked RPI team the Spartans have ever beaten since the mathematical ratings formula came into existence back during the 1993-94 season. It’s the Spartans second win after a heart-wrenching one-point loss to Davidson on January 30th. UNCG could be peaking at the right time with tourney time right around the corner.

Giant Killers
Western Carolina may barely be over .500 (11-9, 5-4) and in third place in the SoCo North, but the Catamounts have wins over the top two teams in the conference. The first came against UNCG back in early January. That win was keyed by the Catamounts’ stifling defense. The Catamounts latest victims are the Davidson Wildcats. Western defeated Davidson 70-67 in an overtime thriller at Davidson on January 26th. The win snapped the Wildcats 12-game home winning streak at Belk Arena, which was the 15th such longest streak in college basketball. It was also the Catamounts first overtime win of the season in three tries.

WCU guard Kevin Martin sent the game into overtime after hitting a 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left in regulation. The victory left Western Carolina head coach Steve Shurina in shock.

“I still do not know how we won the game,” said Shurina. “This is the first time we did not have our good stuff and still won.”

WCU has a chance at another upset when the Catamounts travel to Greensboro to play UNCG on February 2nd. And if WCU wins that game, it might not even be considered an upset as they would be tied with UNCG for second place in the division.

Clutch Keydet
Like I said in my Southern Conference Preview, keep an eye on Jason Conley. Don’t look now (and I know most of the country hasn’t anyway), but the VMI freshman is leading the country in scoring with a 29.0 point per game average. In fact, in 19 of the Keydets’ 20 games, Conley has been the leading scorer. So why has the freshman been so successful?
First of all, he plays on a lousy team. When everyone else is garbage, the best player can’t help but get a good share of touches throughout a game. But with that being said, Conley is immensely talented as well.

The redshirt freshman is shooting at a close to 50 percent clip and has a free throw shooting percentage of 85 percent. If Conley holds on to his national scoring lead, he will be the first ever freshman to do so. As the season draws to a close for VMI (7-13, 2-7), Conley continues to be the team’s lone bright spot. And oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Conley also leads the team in rebounding too. Look for more on Conley in future Hoopville articles.

College of Charleston fought hard in 63-52 loss to UNCG on January 29th. Too bad for C of C, most of the fighting was among fellow Cougar players. In short, John Kresse’s team nearly imploded. Down 12 points in the second half, the Cougars failed to convert on yet another offensive possession and forward Leighton Bowie and guard Tony Mitchell decided to have a profanity laced discussion about it. The “talk” resulted in several Cougar players having to hold Bowie back from charging at Mitchell.

The loss to UNCG sent the C of C into a first place tie with The Citadel, Georgia Southern and Chattanooga. Although the Cougars have the best overall record (15-5) in the conference, they have struggled in conference play (5-4) losing four of nine games. Conference struggles do not bode well for C of C, who have a history of finishing with high win totals only to flop in conference play and miss the NCAA tournament. The team’s latest debacle wont help matters either.

Hats off
While there is not anything too special to say about any of these teams at this time, I would like to congratulate The Citadel, Georgia Southern and Chattanooga for being tied for first place in the SoCo South this late in the year. If they keep it up, any of these could be a dark horse come conference tourney time.

Upcoming Game to Watch:
Western Carolina at UNCG. The upstart Catamounts can climb into a second place tie with UNCG in the North division with a win.

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