College Corner 3/3
Big South Awards for USC Upstate Basketball
USC Upstate Men’s and Women’s basketball have exceeded everyone’s expectations this season. Both teams were expected to finish the season toward the bottom of the Big South conference, but the teams finished 4th and 3rd in the regular season, respectively.
The success of the two teams was rewarded this week when the annual Big South Awards were announced.
Women’s coach Becky Burke was named Big South Coach of the year, Rachel Rose was named conference Freshman of the year and was named to the all Big South honorable mention team. Chellia Watson was named to the all conference first team and finished second in player of the year voting to Longwood, Akila Smith.
Burke took a team expected to finish in 10th place to a 3rd place conference finish in just her second year at the helm of the Spartans. The Spartans earned a 14-4 conference record in 2022 and they led the conference in many categories including field goal percentage and 3pt fg percentage. Burke edged out Longwood Coach Rebecca Tillett for the honor.
Rose was the top scoring freshman in the Big South averaging 12.7 points per game which also ended up being 12th most in the entire league. She was third in the conference in field goal percentage and fifth in assists.
On the men’s side Jordan Gainey was named co-freshamn of the year, named to the all freshman team and was second team all conference along with his teammate Bryson Mozone.
Gainey averaged 16.3 points per game in conference in 2022 and was the only player to average over 50% from 3 point range. He was 6th in the conference in field goal percentage and 8th in free-throw percentage. Gainey also scored 15 or more points in 14 of 16 conference games.
The Women’s team will start their bid for a conference Tournament Championship on Thursday at 8:00 against UNC-Asheville, while the men will open tournament play on Friday against Charleston Southern, who upset Asheville with a buzzer beater in the first round, at 2:00 in Charlotte.
Wofford Ready for SOCON Tourney
The 2021-2022 regular season is in the books for the Terriers. Wofford finished on a high note, with 2 conference wins to get them up to 2 games over .500, and more importantly, secure a crucial seeding for the Southern Conference Tournament.
This past Wednesday, Wofford hit the road to Lexington, Virginia for a date with the VMI Keydets in what was a favorable matchup for the Terriers to get back over .500 in the SoCon. They would go on to have hardly any trouble in this one, leading wire to wire, and having as large of a lead as 17 points, which is an impressive feat given that the Keydets play their best basketball at home, having been 9-3 on their own floor coming into this game.
The Terriers were effective in all facets of the game. They outrebounded VMI 36-26 with 28 of those being defensive. The Terriers had one of their best games from the field all season, going 32 for 57 (56%) for 48 points in the paint. From beyond the arch, Wofford had 3 players hit at least 2 three pointers in the game for the 18th time this season. All in all, the Terriers hit 9 of 25 triples with Max Klesmit going 4-7 (after this game, Wofford was 11-2 on the season when Max makes 3 + treys), BJ Mack 3 of 5, and Ryan Larson 2 for 4. At the freethrow line, the Terriers were nearly automatic, going 10 for 12.
Wofford was led by the 1-2 punch of Max Klesmit and BJ Mack. Klesmit totaled 22 points to lead all Terrier scorers. Mack tallied 21 with 7 rebounds and 3 assists. Ryan Larson was also in double figures with 15 points and 4 assists. The Terrier bench was also strong, contributing 19 points in the 83-72 win.
Defensively, Wofford held VMI to just 41% from the floor and 32% from 3 point range. They forced 12 turnovers and limited the Keydets to just 6 second chance points. All around a good, confidence-boosting win for the Terriers.
Saturday was Senior Night at Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium, as Wofford honored David Appelgren (7’1” center from Stockholm, Sweden), Ryan Larson, Alex Michael (6’ 6” Forward from Greensboro, NC), and Isaiah Bigelow. The Terriers closed out their regular season against the Mercer Bears, looking to climb to 2 games over .500 in the Southern Conference and jump up in the standings to lock up a top 5 seed for the conference tournament. In the last meeting between these 2 back on January 31, Wofford went ice cold over the final 6:00 of the game and let a close one slip away. This time, it would be just as close down to the wire. But, a much happier story for the Terriers.
The first half was rather inauspicious for Wofford, as they did not shoot well down the stretch. The Terriers were 9-21 in the paint, 1 for 8 from three point range, and 6 of 11 from the free throw line in the first half. Mercer on the other hand, seemingly couldn’t miss for the majority of the half, making on all but 11 attempts in the paint (they were 2-6 from distance and 6-6 from the line). The Terriers trailed 34-25 at the half.
The 2nd half started out about as perfectly for Wofford as they could have hoped. They opened on an 11-0 run to take the lead 35-34, and they never fell out of rhythm the rest of the game. The Terriers opened up as big as a 9 point advantage, but saw the Bears keep fighting to get back in it. Mercer tied the game with 7:12 to play and from there, they ended up keeping it a 1 score game despite Wofford continuing to shoot well. The difference came down to the final 5:00, where Max Klesmit and BJ Mack (who combined for 47 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 assists) answered the bell and made huge plays. Klesmit hit 3 big contested shots down the stretch, 2 of them were clutch threes as the shot clock expired. BJ Mack hit on 3 heavily contested shots at the rim over that stretch. The duo also made a huge impact at the line over the final 40 seconds.
Mercer began trying to play defense by fouling, trailing just 67-63 at the time. It came back to bite them as Wofford was able to salt it away by going 7 of 8 at the line with Klesmit hitting 4 and Mack draining the other 3 free throws. The Terriers were able to pull away for a nice 74-67 win to cap off the regular season in exciting fashion and up their record to 18-12 overall and 10-8 in SoCon play.
With Wofford’s win over Mercer and East Tennessee State’s win over UNC-Greensboro on Sunday, the Terriers secured a crucial first-round bye as the #4 seed in the Southern Conference Tournament this weekend. They also have a favorable matchup. Wofford will open the SoCon Tourney with the #5 seed VMI Keydets, whom the Terriers swept this regular season. Should the Terriers beat VMI, they’ll advance to the semifinals, where they would likely face #1 seed Chattanooga, who will play the winner of the first round game between #8 seed ETSU and #9 seed The Citadel.
The road to the Big Dance for the Terriers starts Saturday at 2:30 at Harrah’s Cherokee Center in Asheville. You can catch that game on ESPN plus. If Wofford advances to the semifinal, it will be televised nationally on ESPNU Sunday at 4:00 PM.