Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Terriers' approach of taking it one game at a time paying off in the SoCon fray

For a second, forget all of the RPI rankings, the self-proclaimed experts, the hype. For just a fleeting moment, tune out the noise.

The Terriers are 2-0 in Southern Conference play.

Yes, Mike Young's squad is unscathed through a pair of games -- two rough, gritty contests in which the road outfit fell behind early -- and, all of a sudden, it seems that things are actually falling into place. Things are really working, and they've got the pressure-treated seal of assurance that comes with these arduous encounters.

Before the advent of this season, it was clear what this team would be all about. No looking up and down the schedule, growing mesmerized with the close dates and daunting foes. They would take it one precious game at a time, gleaning from them what needed to be fixed and implementing solutions where they're due.

The Terriers have already gotten through a harsh non-conference schedule; there is little or nothing to regret about the completed slate. In fact, despite the often-incriminating evidence that is the scoreboard, it was an excellent run -- even through the games against programs like Duke and West Virginia.

No other Wofford team -- in the Division-I era, at least -- put up a start quite like this. "What we have to do in terms of our schedule," Young declared after a bitter 33-point setback to Bob Huggins' Mountaineers in Morgantown, W.Va., "that's unconscionable to be 9-3." Although they fell to 9-4 after the New Year's Eve loss at Duke, it hardly alters the sentiment.

All the signs, whether they wanted them to or not, were pointing towards the Terriers to enjoy some league success. This wouldn't be the same conference, though -- but not in the way some might think. No, it's not going to be easier. It's going to be as rough as it ever was. Are we ready for the ride?

The Terriers were served a crushing 77-44 defeat at the hands of
nationally-ranked West Virginia in December.

Things got off to a good start when the Terriers overcame a lethargic start and withstood several Samford rallies to clinch a slight three-point triumph in the SoCon opener. It wasn't too convincing for critics, however, and many wondered just how Wofford would fare against Chattanooga, the squad thought of as second only to the defending league title-holders.

Of course, the Terriers started off slow -- perhaps too slow -- again, falling behind by as much as fourteen points in the first half, before picking up the pace a few minutes before halftime. Karl Cochran left an indelible impression in the second half, scoring twenty-seven of his career-high thirty-three points there.

Above all odds, Wofford dispatched the Mocs by a score of 68-64 and remained undefeated in SoCon play. Improbable, I told myself after the triumph had been sealed. They just find ways to win. I knew that they operated like this sometimes, waiting a good while before heating up in the game. Surely, though, the better the opponent, the harder it would be to overcome a rocky first half.

They overcame it on Monday evening, though, and in retrospect, it only seems fitting that Mike Young's two-hundredth victory would come in such a way. And the only nickname that fits this outfit would have to be the "Cardiac Terriers."

In the last meeting between the two squads, the
Terriers defeated VMI 94-93 in overtime.

If it was the road aspect of these early conference games that made it overly tough to get going, the Terriers are in luck. For the first time since December 17, Wofford will host a game in Ben Johnson Arena. It's been quite a bit longer, though, since the opponent -- VMI, who rejoined the conference after leaving for the Big South after the 2002-03 season -- hasn't played Wofford since departing twelve years ago.

In that February 8 game, Wofford eked out a one-point overtime victory against the Keydets. However, things are much different nowadays.

The Keydets come into the game hoping to snap a four-game losing streak, which includes conference setbacks against East Tennessee State and Mercer. Although it didn't count as a league win, VMI started off the season with a 66-65 against The Citadel, a foe they will have encountered four times when the regular season comes to a conclusion.

Shooting guard Q.J. Peterson is a viable anchor of this squad, averaging a team-high 20.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. The sophomore from Hedgesville, W.Va., has also played the most minutes of any Keydet this season and is maintaining a 35 percent field goal average. A reserve, Julian Eleby, has one of the squad's best shooting percentages and is a moderate rebounding threat.

Tim Marshall is another leader, as he posts an average of nearly twelve points a game and a 39 percent shooting average from his point guard post. Brian Brown provides some additional depth on the bench.

Trey Chapman has gotten several recent starts at strong forward, but he is splitting time with Phillip Anglade, a Long Island City, N.Y., native who is maintaining a sharper field goal percentage. Craig Hinton has also logged a few minutes recently.

Power forward Jordan Weethee, who is averaging 7.6 points and about four boards a game, and center Jarid Watson, picking up three rebounds a contest, round out the core of this formidable group.

"[VMI's] style is far different from anything we've seen," coach Young said to TerrierVision. "They may come in here tomorrow night and attempt forty threes. They want to play fast...We're the polar opposite of that in terms of style."

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