The Southern Conference has been called the “father” of many modern-day conferences. Members of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and Southeastern Conference (SEC) started out battling each other in the Southern Conference.
This weekend, the nation’s oldest post-season conference tournament will take place in the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, SC. The 81st annual Southern Conference tournament promises to be wide-open and very competitive.
Western Carolina, who has been locked into the sixth-seed since midway through the second half of the season, had to wait until Sunday night to find out who they’d play in the tourney. By virtue of their 10-point win over Furman, The Citadel earned the South’s third seed.
“I don’t know if you’re happy with a draw as opposed to another draw,” explained Shurina. “I think that either one of those games (Georgia Southern or The Citadel), actually, just in terms of what we did against them last time, was a good draw.”
In their only regular season meeting, the Bulldogs escaped a late charge by the Catamounts, and Alan Puckett scored the only two points in the overtime period to lead The Citadel past Western Carolina 56-54.
WCU came back from a 12-point deficit with 4:47 remaining in regulation on the shooting of Casey Rogers and Cory Largent, who led the Catamounts with 15 points a piece.
Citadel’s Travis Cantrell had a chance to end the game in regulation but was called for a charge with 2.7 seconds left. Largent tried for a three-pointer at the buzzer, but it fell short.
In the extra five minutes, neither team could hit the mark with Puckett’s two points coming from free throws. However, as head coach Steve Shurina commented, the Cats outplayed The Citadel in overtime, they just simply could not convert on several scoring opportunities.
“We played really close and actually, it was one of those games that we should have won,” explained Shurina. “We totally outplayed them in overtime, just couldn’t make the shots.”
He added, “The draw is good for our guys because we know we went and played them there when we weren’t playing well and lost to them in overtime. We also know that we’re a lot better now.”
However, Shurina, almost in the same breath, stated that his squad has a lot of respect for The Citadel, who has won six of their last seven contests.
“They’re playing pretty well,” Shurina said. “They have two pretty good shooters, and sometimes that causes us problems.”
Shurina is planning on attacking the Bulldogs with a similar plan as the one employed versus UNC Greensboro; get a hand in the face of their shooters, play intense defense, and hit the glass hard to win the battle of the boards. That plan was successful Saturday night in defeating the Spartans.
“The win over Greensboro was huge. If I could have drawn up a script before that game that said, ‘this is the best thing that could happen for us going into the tournament,’ hopefully we’d continue to play well, which we did; get a contribution from the bench, which we did; and to win a close game, which we did.”
On the whole, when the north division meets the south in Greenville, there are really no true favorites. Of course, the College of Charleston, who’s been in the championship each of their first two seasons in the conference, is always going to be a factor.
However, their first game on Friday will be against either Davidson, who just knocked off the Cougars, or Wofford, who should have beaten CofC in their two head-to-head match-ups.
Northern third seed Appalachian State faces off against hometown Furman, a team who beat ASU in their lone seasonal meeting, and of course WCU’s match-up with The Citadel is a very possible upset. The winner of the Dogs and Cats game will face UNC Greensboro, who WCU just knocked off and The Citadel beat during the season.
The one team that Shurina said had been consistent is East Tennessee State. He said that the Bucs have “been on a roll.”
“I love the tournament, personally,” said Shurina. “It’s just an awesome atmosphere, and it’s going to be wild.”
He added, “We’re playing well, and they know we’re playing well. And there’s no one, especially on our side of the bracket, that scares any of them. They know that they’ve just got to take it one day at a time.”
Shurina said that in practice preparing for the tournament, we went in and wrote every conference team and their records on the blackboard in the locker room. Prior to his team taking to the floor, Shurina wiped the records off, signifying the start of a new season, an even season.
That, along with a ‘nothing to lose’ and ‘loose feeling’ seem to be the mind-set of WCU heading to Greensboro.
The underdog Catamounts will battle The Citadel Thursday at 2:30 p.m. in the second game of the tournament.