A third straight 20-loss season means Citadel basketball has not had a lot of great moments this year.
But what moments the Bulldogs have enjoyed have come mostly on the road. And that provides a bit of hope as The Citadel travels to Asheville, N.C., tonight to take on Western Carolina in the first round of the Southern Conference tournament.
The 8-21 Bulldogs earned three of their five SoCon wins on the road, all of them in emphatic fashion.
• On Jan. 19, The Citadel snapped a 12-game skid with a 70-55 win at Georgia Southern, a team that had just vanquished SoCon champion Davidson and contender College of Charleston.
• On Feb. 2, the Bulldogs trailed by 16 at halftime before erupting for 60 second-half points and an 84-79 win at Furman.
• And on Feb. 20 at Appalachian State, senior center Mike Groselle scored 10 of the Bulldogs’ 12 points in overtime for an 80-77 victory.
“We’re certainly not intimidated by the road,” said coach Chuck Driesell, whose team was 2-7 at home and 3-6 on the road in SoCon play. “That’s one reason we’ve played well in places like Georgia Southern and App State. Those places can be intimidating. But we have so much youth on this team, we’re just trying to get better whether we are on the road or not.”
For the 11th-seeded Bulldogs, facing No. 6 Western Carolina (13-18, 9-9) at Asheville’s U.S. Cellular Center is tantamount to a road game. WCU’s campus in Cullowhee is just 40 miles away.
The Catamounts opened their run to the SoCon finals last year in Asheville with a 68-56 win over The Citadel.
“I don’t recall that being much of a factor in our game last year,” Driesell said. “But it may have played in their favor as they continued to win. They certainly did a great job getting to the finals.”
WCU won at The Citadel, 72-55, on Jan. 5. Groselle was limited to five shots and eight points in that game, which also was the season debut of 6-8 sophomore P.J. Horgan, who had 10 points and eight rebounds after taking off his redshirt.
“We are a better team than we showed in that game,” Driesell said.
WCU coach Larry Hunter benched his best player, all-SoCon guard Trey Sumler (17.9 ppg) for the regular season finale, a 56-54 win over Samford. Hunter did not like the way Sumler, a 6-2 junior, reacted after an 81-72 loss to Chattanooga in the previous game. Sumler will play against The Citadel.
“That was a learning moment for him,” Hunter said.
“I hold my leaders to a higher standard, and I didn’t think he handled frustration very well after that game. You’ve got to learn that when things don’t go well, leaders stand the tallest and find the positives in all situations.”
Tonight’s winner gets No. 3 seed College of Charleston in Saturday night’s quarterfinals.