The Citadel takes to the floor for the final time in 2015, as it closes out the calendar year with a trip to the Queen City to battle the Charlotte 49ers, as the Bulldogs are now guaranteed to finish non-conference play with a winning record for the first time since Ed Conroy was in charge as head coach.
The 49ers, who are under the direction of former Georgia Tech and Cleveland Cavaliers star Mark Price, are just 2-9 on the young season, with wins coming against SoCon member Furman (W, 77-68) and former SoCon member Appalachian State (W, 82-66). Both clubs enter the contest coming off of setbacks, with Charlotte having dropped a 62-59 decision to the Georgetown Hoyas at Time Warner Cable Arena.
The Bulldogs would drop a 101-82 decision to Campbell the last time they took the floor 10 days ago. The Bulldogs have gotten off to a fast start under the direction of first-year head coach Duggar Baucom. The Bulldogs come into the contest against the 49ers playing the kind of basketball that is pleasing to the eye offensively.
Baucom, of course, was the head coach at VMI last season, switching military schools over the off-season, making the Bulldogs one of the toughest teams to face in the Southern Conference because of the brand of basketball employed by the Bulldogs. The Citadel continues to lead the nation in scoring, entering the contest as the nation's top scoring team, averaging 93.1 PPG so far on the campaign. With the Bulldogs scoring points with such propensity, the Bulldogs have been a good ticket for the average basketball fan this season.
The 49ERS have had what amounts to a rebuilding year this season under Price, but Charlotte is seemingly getting better with each game, and have played a brutal schedule so far this season. For Charlotte, it will also mark the final non-conference home game of the season, with only one game remaining on Feb. 3 at North Carolina A&T. The 49ERS open Conference USA play on Jan. 2, traveling north to Norfolk to take on Old Dominion.
The one opponent that both Charlotte and The Citadel have in common this season is Campbell, who has defeated both foes relatively recently. The 49ERS come into the contest having faced the Camels back on Dec. 9, and Campbell was able to come to Halton Arena to take a 76-70 win. Tuesday night's meeting between the Bulldogs and 49ERS will mark the first-ever meeting between the two programs.
A Brief Look at the 49ERS:
Charlotte has had its share of struggles through its first 10 games this season, but the good or bad news depending on how you look at Charlotte's struggles is that it has not played a conference game as of yet. Tuesday night it will have a great chance at getting a third win on the season and a second over a Southern Conference opponent. However, Price's club has not faced a program that plays the type of basketball that The Citadel will play on Tuesday night.
The basically plays an offense that is four guards and a center. The Bulldogs' goal is to out-score teams, and while Charlotte favors a faster pace, I don't think it is a good idea for Charlotte to getting into a scoring battle with The Citadel. Charlotte has been led this season by its backcourt, and the top player in that backcourt coming into the contest is Braxton Ogbueze(11.8 PPG, 1.7 RPG), who enters the contest as the only Charlotte player averaging in double figures.
The 6-1 redshirt junior guard is a transfer from the University of Florida, and has scored in double figures in each of the past three games coming into the showdown with the Bulldogs. His recent string of strong scoring performances started with that Dec. 9 meeting against Campbell, which saw the point guard post 18 points in the loss to the Campbell, and followed that up with a season high 25 points in the 82-66 win at Appalachian State back on Dec. 19.
In Charlotte's most-recent outing against Georgetown, as he finished that contest with 24 points. Ogbueze also had double-figure scoring efforts in games against East Carolina (17 pts) and Syracuse (15 pts) in losses earlier this season.Ogbueze is shooting the ball at a blistering rate for the 49ERS over the past three games, as he has connected on 17 of his past 25 shots from three-point range, including a 7-for-7 performance from three in the road win at Appalachian State. All but 13 of his three-pointers this season came in the past three-game stretch.
Prior to the Campbell game, Ogbueze was just 13-for-44 from three-point land on the season. After his performance from beyond the arc over the past three games, Ogbueze has improved his percentage to 43.5% from three-point range, having connected on 30-of-69 shots from beyond the arc this season. Ogbueze has also dished out 16 helpers and has registered a pair of steals on the season.
Joining Ogbueze into basically what is a four-guard offense for the 49ERS heading into Tuesday night's contest will be Anthony Vanhook (6.5 PPG, 3.7 RPG), Jon Davis (7.5 PPG, 2.7 RPG), and Ridell Camridge (5.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG). Vanhook, though only 6-4, is listed as playing a forward position, but he favors more of a perimeter game. He is also one of the more athletic, cerebral players on the floor for the 49ERS.
Vanhook has a team-leading 27 assists this season, and has been really the glue guy for this team, as he does the things that don't show up on a stats sheet. He missed the Furman game due to a concussion. Vanhook nearly recorded a triple-double earlier this season, posting 10 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in a game against East Carolina. Vanhook had two other games in double figures, posting 10 points in a loss to No. 21 Miami and had 14 in the win at Appalachian State. Vanhook will be listed as a forward, but plays more like a guard in the Charlotte offense.
Ridell Camridge (5.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG) will be another wing in the starting backcourt for the 49ERS. Camridge has not been a go-to-scorer for the 49ERS this season, but he has the ability to score in bunches from the three-point line, as he displayed in the season opener against Elon, scoring a season-high 18 points on an impressive 6-of-7 shooting from the field and 3-for-4 from three-point range in what was a narrow loss to Elon.
Camridge has had three double-figure scoring performances this season, also posting double figures in games against Davidson and Appalachian State, posting 14 and 10 points, respectively, in those two games. Camridge started the season shooting the ball strong from the three-point line, however, he 12-for-45 from three-point range this season, which converts to an average of 26.7% from three-point range.
Jon Davis (7.5 PPG, 2.7 RPG) rounds out the starting guards for the 49ERS, and has started eight out of his 11 games in his Charlotte career. The 6-2 freshman guard from Upper Marlboro, MD has three double-figure scoring performances this season, which came against Washington (14 pts), Campbell (19 pts) and Georgetown (12 pts). He had his best shooting game against Campbell, connecting on 7-of-11 shots from the field in the loss to the Camels.
The starting five for the 49ERS is rounded out by its lone true post presence, in 6-10 Josef Uchebo (8.1 PPG, 8.4 RPG). The center from Enugu, Nigeria is a transfer from the University of Pittsburgh, and he has been a consistent performer for Charlotte in his career. He is easily having his most productive season in the Green and Gold, having posted four games in double figures this season. In three out of four games, which came against Furman, Georgetown and Davidson, Uchebo posted 12 points.
His best game came in a loss to Syracuse, posting his lone double-double of the campaign, finishing the game with 16 points and 12 boards in a loss at Syracuse. Uchebo's most recent double-figure scoring effort was the last time out against Georgetown, posting 12 points. One interesting note on the 6-10 center is that his brother, Michael Uchebo, was a member of Nigeria's 2014 World Cup Soccer Team, which qualified for the second round in last summer's World Cup in Brazil before eventually losing to France. Uchebo is shooting a solid 52.3% from the field so far this season, and he will be one of the keys to the game for the 49ERS on Tuesday night against a smaller frontcourt for the Bulldogs.
Off the bench for Charlotte, look for Bernard Sullivan (10.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG) and Andrien White (9.1 PPG, 3.5 RPG) to be the most significant performers utilized by coach Price. Sullivan, who is a transfer from Clemson, is questionable for Tuesday night's game still waiting for the doctor's okay after suffering a concussion, missing the last game with Georgetown as a result of concussion-like symptoms. Prior to the Georgetown game, Sullivan had started nine out of the previous 10 games for the Niners.
Sullivan is a key piece to to the Charlotte puzzle, which includes six double-figure games this season, including a season and career-high 20 points in a loss to rival Davidson. White was named Conference USA Freshman of the Week on Nov. 23 following strong performances against East Carolina and Furman, averaging 16.5 PPG and 5.5 RPG during the week. He posted 21 points against the Pirates, and finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds the next time out against the Paladins. The 6-3 guard is athletic, but has not posted a double-figure scoring performance since Nov. 27, and he's a player, which coming into the season, the Niners needed to be a contributor offensively. Seven-foot center Benas Griciunas (5.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG) is another player that gives Charlotte excellent depth off the bench in the frontcourt.
A Look at the Bulldogs:
The Citadel obviously enters the contest with a high-octane offense that likes to get as many possessions as possible and shoot as quickly as possible. It's not surprising that the Bulldogs lead the nation in scoring, averaging 93.1 PPG and also ranks in the Top 10 nationally in assists-per-game, steals-per-game and three-pointers made-per-game. On the defensive end, the Bulldogs force opponents into 19.3 turnovers per game, which leads the SoCon.
A win over Chartlotte on Tuesday would give the Bulldogs their best start in non-conference play since the 2004-05 season, as it would have eight wins, including five victories over Division I non-conference foes. A win would also give the Bulldogs eight non-league wins for the first time since 2004-05. Leading the Bulldogs this season has been Derrick Henry (19.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG), who comes into the contest averaging 19.2 PPG, and he is coming off the bench. He is a very similar player to the one Baucom had last season at VMI, in QJ Peterson, primarily in that he comes into the matchup with a style of game that meshes well with the style of offense that Baucom employs.
Henry is quite the story, having returned from a severe ACL tear some three years ago and has become one of the best scorers in the Southern Conference. Henry's 19.2 PPG is second to only Peterson in scoring in the SoCon this season.
Henry comes into the contest having connected 25-of-65 from three-point range this season, ranking third on the team in three-pointers made. Henry already has two 30-point games this season, including the last time out against Campbell. Henry also posted 30 points in a win at USC Upstate back in November. He has scored in double figures in all 12 games this season.
Henry will come off the bench for the Bulldogs as he has done all season. Set to start in the backcourt for the Bulldogs on Tuesday will be P.J. Boutte (8.8 PPG, 6.7 APG) and Warren Sledge (10.6 PPG, 2.2 RPG). Boutte comes into the contest as one of best passers of the basketball in the Sotuhern Conference. Boutte leads the SoCon in assists-per-game so far this season, and he has quickly taken on the role as being the most important player on the floor for the Bulldogs, setting the tone for the Bulldog attack.
Boutte has had several strong performances for the Bulldogs, posting a career-high 19 points in a contest earlier this season against Oral Roberts.Sledge enters Tuesday night's clash with the 49ERS as one of the SoCon's top perimeter threats, having knocked down a team-best 31 triples this season, and that number ranks the junior guard fourth in the SoCon in three-pointers made-per-game, averaging 2.6 makes from three-point land per game.
The 6-3 Sledge has scored in double figures in seven games this season for the Bulldogs, including scoring a career-high 20 points in a win over Bethune-Cookman. In that contest, Sledge finished the contest connecting on 6-of-10 shots from the field, including 5-of-9 from three-point land. In the paint, the Bulldogs have veterans Brian White (13.2 PPG, 4.5 RPG) and Quinton Marshall (13.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG) to rely on, while Zane Nadawi (6.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG) will be the man in the middle for the Bulldogs.
White is in his third as a starter for the Bulldogs, and had one of the best games of his career in a recent outing against Bethune-Cookman, posting his fifth-career double-double, with 19 points and 13 boards in a win over Bethune-Cookman. White has six double-figure scoring games this season. White enters the contest connecting on 48.8% (41-of-84) from the field this season.
Like White, Marshall is in his third season as a starter for the Bulldogs, and comes into the game with the Niners having posted double-figure scoring games in nine-straight games. Marshall, a 6-5 forward, is probably the best athlete in the starting five for Baucom, and posted his best-career performance in The Citadel's win over Bob Jones at the USC Upstate Tournament, pouring in 26 points in the win over the Bruins.
Marshall came into the season having hit just 16-career triples, but already through 12 games this season, Marshall has eclipsed his career total in just 12 games, having connected on 19-of-64 (29.7%) from three-point land this season.
Najdawi, a 6-7 freshman forward from Midlothian, VA, has started nine of 12 games for the Bulldogs this season, and posted a career-high 22 points in his second start of his career against Stetson, knocking down 10-of-15 shots from the field in the win. Najdawi has three double-figure games this season, with the last coming in an 11-point effort at USC Upstate.
The freshman center had a season-high 10 rebounds off the bench in a loss at Presbyterian. Najdawi has 20 of the team's 46 blocks this season, and comes into Tuesday's game ranking second in the SoCon in blocks this season, trailing only Chattanooga's Justin Tuoyo. Najdawi is averaging 1.7 blocks-per-game this season, while Tuoyo leads the league averaging 2.6 BPG.
Joining Henry off the bench as key contributors to for the Bulldogs will be 5-11 freshman point guard Quayson Williams (9.3 PPG, 11 assists, 12 steals) and 6-8 center Tim Koopman (2.8 PPG, 2.1 RPG). Williams has started four games this season for the Bulldogs, while Koopman has logged three starts on the campaign. Koopman enjoyed his best game of the season against Bob Jones, posting eight points and seven boards. Williams has five double-figure games this season, including a career-high 30 points in a win over Mid-Atlantic Christian.
The Bulldogs have knocked down 143 triples, which is 35 more than the next closest team in the Southern Conference, which is Chattanooga with 108 three-pointers made. The Bulldogs will head into Southern Conference play this weekend, hosting Chattanooga in a key Southern Conference clash on Saturday afternoon at McAlister Field House.
WHO WINS: Charlotte 88, The Citadel 85