Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A tale of two halves: through resilience, defensive prowess, Terriers gradually growing out of 'slow start' habit

Nearly a month ago, Wofford -- then with a thinly-padded cushion of a lead in SoCon play -- almost succumbed to the vicious threat of Bob Hoffman's Mercer squad. It was defense, though, that kept them in the game; and it's still defense that's allowed the Terriers to stay on top.

Charged from a two-overtime thriller of a victory against Chattanooga, which effectively knotted up second place in the league standings, the Bears had momentum, a date with the first-place Terriers, and a standout in Ike Nwamu, a rather sizable junior guard that was averaging sixteen points coming into the contest. 

With everything to lose, the first-half Terriers were limited to 26 percent shooting from the field and their lowest margin of a half since Bob Huggins and nationally-ranked West Virginia embarrassed Wofford by thirty-three points. There is another similarity between these two seemingly-unrelated contests, though with the latter, it's a bit harder to see.

Yes, Wofford ended the game in the losers' column; nowhere on that fateful trip to Morgantown, W.Va., did the Terriers display a hint, a trace amount of pessimism. They could have laid down -- they could have done the same against Mercer -- but what happened? That's when the second half Terriers came to play some basketball.

What happened a couple games earlier, against Chattanooga? Karl Cochran went just 3-8 from the field in the first half, and missed each shot from long distance. It seemed like Wofford's early success, which, to say the least, was closer than hoped against Samford in the league opener, was moot.

Soon, the Marietta, Ga., native was on the road to his largest mark ever put up in a game situation -- 33 points -- with an explosion of a second half. It's also important to note that Cochran went 6-6 from behind the three-point arc after halftime. All this culminated in one of the most exciting Terrier comebacks of recent memory, an improbable 68-64 dismissal of Will Wade and the Mocs.

My point is, these Terriers are resilient; a later home setback to Chattanooga put an emotional strain on the mind, but more importantly, a fire in the heart. Instead of merely laying down, these short-haired dogs have laid three consecutive double-digit poundings on the likes of Western Carolina (Mike Young's first win at Cullowhee's Ramsey Center), UNCG, and The Citadel (a satisfying revenge game on senior night).

Defense wins games. I fondly remember an excited Mike Young shout something to the tune of, "You won this game because you rebounded and played solid defense," after the adrenaline-pumping victory over ACC foe N.C. State. Defense is obviously what's kept this outfit ticking and been the separating factor between Wofford and the remainder of the SoCon pack.

Not only is this squad tops in the conference for scoring defense, they've grabbed more defensive boards than any other SoCon program. None other than Karl Cochran (145; second-ranked individual mark in the league) and Lee Skinner (123) -- senior teammates -- lift Wofford to the top in this category.

Cochran is also right up there on the list in steals (1.9/game, second) and blocks (~1/game, sixth). In the aforementioned Mercer game, the Terriers held the Bears scoreless for a period of over seven minutes in the second half.

While Wofford turns over the basketball an average of eleven times a contest -- the Terriers have the second-largest turnover margin in the conference -- its adversaries cough it up 13.3 instances a game, the majority of which are forced.

In the last three games -- all double-digit triumphs -- Wofford has limited opponents to an average of 39 percent from the floor and 31 percent from long distance.

Selfishness is agreeing to lose. These Terriers, on the other hand, are not selfish with the basketball. Wofford averages about fourteen assists per game, a mark spurred on by Eric Garcia (2.7/game), Cochran (2.7/game), and Skinner (2.1/game). Through this "unselfish basketball" -- both from assists and taking charges -- the Terriers have been able to push through this harsh conference schedule only mildly scathed.

Wofford also boasts the top assist-to-turnover ratio in the SoCon (1.3). More will come on the importance of unselfishness to the Terrier program.

Wofford is headed in the right direction. It's always helpful to conclude the regular season and enter the SoCon tournament on a high note, and the Terriers seem to be on the correct path. They've won the last three contests by double digits, and seem to have the Spartanburg community -- and some ever-valuable momentum -- in their favor.

It'll be interesting to see how the final weekend of regular season play pans out for the Terriers. For right now, though, they seem to have enough heat to melt the ice that's been plaguing them in so many first halves this season.

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