The 2018 Southern Conference semifinals are set, and top seed UNC Greensboro will join 5 seed Wofford, 2 seed East Tennessee State, and 3 seed Wofford in the battle for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
UNC Greensboro 72, The Citadel 58
In the opening game of the day, the Spartans used a staunch defensive effort in the early moments of the second half to open up a double-digit lead and cruise to victory.
The Spartans were buoyed by a defensive effort that saw them limit the Bulldogs to just 35 percent shooting for the game.
“It’s challenging to prepare for any team, then it’s challenging to get your kids to execute what you want to do,” UNCG head coach Wes Miller said. “It makes you look at basketball differently. Defensively, it took us a minute to get adjusted, but I thought our zone really helped us cover the three-point line.”
Offensively, UNCG had five players finish in double figures, led by 14 points from junior guard Demetrius Troy, who connected on 5-of-11 shots from the field, including going 4-for-7 from three-point land. Troy also had three assists and three rebounds.
Southern Conference Defensive Player of the Year James Dickey posted a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds to go along with three blocks.
The Citadel finished with four in double figures, led by all-league performer Zane Najdawi, who had 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting from the field.
The Spartans’ win matches a school record for wins, as UNCG improves to 25-7. Last year’s NIT participants also amassed 25 wins. The Citadel concludes its 2017-18 season at 11-21.
The Spartans move on to face Wofford in Sunday’s first semifinal clash, slated for 4 p.m. at the US Cellular Center.
Wofford 73 Mercer 53
In the second game of the day, it was a much-anticipated showdown between No. 4 Mercer and No. 5 Wofford — a rematch of a 69-68 Bears win last Sunday.
But Mercer, winners of eight straight, were out of rhythm most of the afternoon, thanks in large part to the Terriers’ stout defensive effort, as Wofford claimed a 73-53 win in the second quarterfinal of the afternoon.
The Terriers held the Bears to just 38.6 percent shooting from the field, including just 26.1 percent from three-point land.
The key was a first half that saw the Terriers force 13 of the Bears’ 18 turnovers for the game. The Bears, who normally take care of the ball, ranked fourth among 10 teams in the SoCon in assist-turnover-ratio (1:2). However, the Bears dished out just nine assists compared to their 18 miscues.
Meanwhile, Wofford turned the ball over just five times, while issuing 11 assists as a team in the win.
Nathan Hoover continued his strong play over the latter half of the season, leading the Terriers with 22 points on 6-for-16 shooting from the field, including 4-of-11 from long range.
The only other player in double figures for the Terriers was Second Team All-SoCon performer Cameron Jackson, who added 18 points and 10 boards. Jackson also swatted away three shots and recored a pair of steals.
Mercer had three in double figures, led by Jordan Strawberry’s 18 points, while all-league performer Stephon Jelks added a double-double with 16 points and 10 boards. Desmond Ringer finished out his Mercer career with 11 points and nine rebounds.
East Tennessee State 77 Chattanooga 59
Jalan McCloud poured in 22 points to lead four Bucs in double figures as the second-seeded Bucs ran away from arch-rival Chattanooga in the opening game of the night session.
McCloud also added added five assists, two steals and a block in the win. Additionally, McCloud was joined in double figures SoCon Player of the Year Desonta Bradford (14 pts) and SoCon Freshman of the Year Bo Hodges (12 pts, 3 blks, 1 stl).
Though ETSU connected on just two of 13 three-point attempts, the Bucs posted an overwhelming 62-28 advantage in points in the paint. The Bucs shot a blistering 58.3 percent from the field for the game, while limiting the Mocs to just 41.2 percent.
After leading 38-31 at the break, the Bucs used an 8-0 run to take a 46-33 lead after the Mocs scored the first bucket of the second half, and ETSU was never really threatened again.
The Mocs were led in the contest by 13 points apiece from Makinde London and Makale Foreman.
Furman 97 Western Carolina 73
In the second game of the night session, No. 3 Furman poured it on, as it blasted No. 6 Western Carolina, 97-73.
With the win, which was the Paladins’ seventh-straight, Furman matched a school record with 23 on the season. Western Carolina finished its season at 13-19.
Furman used an early 14-0 run to take a commanding 26-13 lead, following a Clay Mounce follow-up dunk with 9:13 remaining in the first half. A Geoff Beans four-point play started the run with 13:18 remaining in the half.
From that point, the Catamount deficit never got them inside double digits again, and the Paladins’ led by as many as 29 point.
The Paladins had five players in double figures and shot 55.6 percent from the field for the game. Senior swingman Daniel Fowler led the way with 18 points, which included going 6-of-7 from the field. The Paladins connected on 64.3 percent of their shots in the opening half to take a 50-31 lead into the halftime locker room.
Fowler was joined in double figures by Jordan Lyons (15 pts), Matt Rafferty (14 pts, 9 rebs, 5 stls, 5 asts), John Davis III (12 pts, 5 asts), and Alex Hunter (10 pts).
The Catamounts were paced by Marcus Thomas, who came off the bench to score 19 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the field.
“I really liked our kids demeanor from the outset of this game, and you never how that’s going to go because now it’s tournament play,” Furman head coach Bob Richey said.
In the semifinals, UNC Greensboro will face Wofford at 4 p.m., then ETSU will battle Furman.