After Coastal Carolina guard Anthony Raffa racked up 28 points in an 80-58 win over The Citadel a month ago, a Chanticleers fan offered congratulations.
"Open lanes," Raffa said. "When they are there, you gotta take 'em."
As demonstrated in a 91-74 victory over NAIA member Virginia-Wise on Monday, the Bulldogs are still working to clog those lanes. Their success in doing so will play a big role in determining the fate of a young Citadel team as a stretch of 16 straight Southern Conference games begins tonight at Furman.
The Bulldogs (3-10, 0-2) rank 11th in the SoCon in both scoring defense (allowing 77.1 points per game) and field-goal percentage defense (allowing teams to shoot 49.7 percent), ahead of only UNC Greensboro in both categories.
In large measure, that's because the Bulldogs' man-to-man defense has struggled to stop guards like Raffa from driving by defenders and into the lane.
During a recent eight-game losing streak, the Bulldogs allowed an average of 34 points in the paint per game, and foes shot 59.6 percent from inside the 3-point arc.
There were some signs of progress against Virginia-Wise, which scored 27 points in the paint and shot 43.4 percent inside the arc.
"I only see the bad things, so I'm disappointed in our on-the-ball defense," said coach Chuck Driesell, who tried some 2-3 zone in that game. "We gave up too many points in the point, but we held them to 74 points and we gave up a 3 and a 2 at the end, so it could have been in the 60s.
"But the glaring mistakes … we try not to let them get to the rim, and we're still not doing a good job of that."
On the plus side, the Bulldogs forced 16 turnovers, second-most by a foe this season, and drew three charges, two by Bo Holston and one by Cosmo Morabbi.
"We've been playing pretty well offensively," said Morabbi, who scored a career-best 17 against Virginia-Wise. "It's the defense that needs to improve. There is progress, but we still need to stop the drives. We've been working on that all year, and I think it will click soon."
Against Furman (6-7, 0-2), the Bulldogs face a team that's working to replace departed guards Jordan Miller and Darryl Evans, as well as All- SoCon forward Amu Saaka from last year's 22-win team.
Without those three, coach Jeff Jackson has started nine different players. His team ranks ninth in the league in scoring (66.1 ppg), 11th in shooting (40.4 percent) and last in assists per game (10.5). But Furman's top scorer, senior forward Bryson Barnes, was academically ineligible for the first nine games and has averaged 10.8 points since his return, including 26 in a 76-63 win at Western Kentucky.
The Citadel returns home Saturday to face Samford.
Who: The Citadel at Furman
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Timmons Arena, Greenville.