Sunday, February 3, 2013

Davidson Holds Off Wofford...Again

After the Georgia-South Carolina game, I got in my car and made the now familiar drive from the Gamecocks' campus to Huger Street then up to I-26. This time I was not getting off at the always crowded Harbison Boulevard exit. No, I was heading up to Spartanburg to see Wofford host Davidson.

It seems the magical time range for any of my basketball road trips so far is ninety minutes (I can make Charlotte in that time frame with my lead foot) to two and a half hours (Coastal Carolina). The trip from Columbia to Spartanburg is ninety minutes. I was debating whether to stop along the way for dinner or find a place near campus. To what I thought was my eventual chagrin, I chose the latter. Along the way though, I saw the exit for Presbyterian College, one of my eventual Big South Conference destinations.

The exit for Wofford College is Route 221, which brings you directly into the heart of Spartanburg. But as I got close to Wofford, I didn't see much in the way of restaurant choices. So I drove into the main entrance to Wofford and a nice campus safety guard showed me the direct way to get to the main parking lot for Johnson Arena.

To get to Johnson Arena, basically, you have to drive past the main Wofford College entrance and take the second right on Pearl Street. Then as the campus safety guard noted to me, once you see the pink house on the top of the hill, you bear right. Then you follow the winding road down behind a housing development (nice houses by the way), which then takes you down a narrow road that leads to the entrance of the main parking area. There an attendant directs you to park. I wouldn't have found this myself had it not been for the helpful campus security guard.

Once I got out of my car, it was a little after 5:30. I followed some Wofford fans to the entrance of the Campus Life Building where Johnson Arena is located. When you first walk into the Campus Life Building, you are greeted by a small statute of a Terrier. Then you walk into a quiet commons area with a coffee bar on the right hand side. But if you look in the right hand corner, you will see a student cafe. This cafe contains ample seating, flat screen TVs and a mini food court with a Chick Fil-a counter, a deli counter and another "Foods of the World" counter. In front of the entrance to the mini food court was a table with homemade baked desserts, cookies, cakes, cupcakes etc.

After striking up a conversation with the friendly attendant at the Chick Fila station where he made me a fresh grilled chicken sandwich, I grabbed some waffle fries, some desserts and grabbed a sweet tea. I managed to somehow hold onto all four items without a tray, paid the cashier and made my way to a set of tables that was right in front of the flat screen TV showing Northern Iowa and Wichita State (eventually won by the Panthers).

There was a nice mix of students and Wofford fans, many of them older fans. I could see why many people would come out for a nice Saturday night game. My reserved ticket cost twelve dollars, a bleacher seat costs ten dollars. Dinner was seven dollars. Think about it, for twenty bucks per person you can have a decent meal and watch a good basketball game. That's a good deal. Thanks Wofford!

After dinner, I made my way to my seat. There are two wings, the east and west wings, each of which has a separate entrance and outside of one hallway outside the arena, there is no connection to the wings once in the building. Not knowing this, It turns out I went to the wrong wing entrance. But the usher was kind enough to show me how to get there and I eventually made my way to the east wing section where my seat was located.

Now don't take this the wrong way Wofford fans, but when I got to my seat at Johnson Arena, I didn't consider it an arena. It's somewhat a very large gym with mostly wooden bleachers that had three sections of reserved comfortable chair back seating on each side in the front.. There is no club suite seating. The walls are your classic concrete gym walls.

However, there are two standout things you notice about Johnson Arena. First is the striking parquet floor, one of the few of its kind. Second, the gym holds noise well. Really well. In fact, in the second half, when Wofford made a run on Davidson, it started getting really loud and it was not packed (about 1500 was the attendance last night). Turns out, as I drove home, I turned on the post game show from the local Wofford station and they noted that half the students still haven't returned from break. Imagine the arena when Wofford had good teams that made the NCAA Tournament in 2010 and 2011. I bet it was the place was rocking.  Plus, the giant "Beware of Dog" sign behind the Wofford basket was a nice touch as well.

A local grade school choir did a wonderful job singing the national anthem. The students also were located in the bleacher level behind me, so when they made their way up to their seats, I made sure to tell the music choir director what a good job they did. It was the start to a very good evening of basketball and promotional events.

As the team introductions were made, I saw that Davidson's fans had basically taken up the entire section behind the Wildcats' bench. Yes, it helps to draw fans when you are 9-1 in conference. But considering Davidson's long storied history, I am not surprised by the large contingent they had for last night's game. I thought for sure that they were going to break out into "Sweet Caroline" late in the second half.

The Wildcats came out early scoring the first four points. Spencer Collins though would drill a three pointer, in what would be a reoccurring theme for the Terriers on the night. Through the first six minutes, it was a close affair, with Davidson maintaining an 8-6 lead.

But if you have watched enough of Davidson's basketball games on TV or in person, you can see that is so difficult to stop Bob McKillop's team on offense. The Wildcats' offensive sets are a thing of a beauty, both from a ball movement standpoint and a player movement standpoint. The Wildcats are constantly moving without the ball. This leads to multiple screens, backdoor cuts and a lot of open looks driving the lane. In the second half, with Davidson on my end of the court, it was truly a treat to watch their offensive set from my vantage point.

As a result, Davidson started pulling away from Wofford in the first half. First it was a 9-2 spurt on four consecutive layups, including a three point play by senior forward Jake Cohen. Davidson was up 17-8 and Wofford Coach Mike Young had to call timeout. It was a good timeout which resulted in an offensive set that got Karl Cochran open for a three pointer that he buried to cut the lead to 17-11.

Again Davidson responded with an 8-2 spurt with Tom Droney and Chris Czerpowicz each scoring four points. The Wildcats were now up 25-13 with nine minutes left in the half. It seemed that the Terriers had no answers to stopping Davidson on offense.

However, Wofford kept in the game in large part due to Collins (number 32 pictured here), who by himself would keep the Terriers in the game. Collins scored ten straight points for Wofford on a variety of shots, a three pointer, a layup and a couple of short jumpers. After being fouled in the act of shooting and missing his first attempt, Collins hit the second free throw to end his ten straight point outburst and cut the Davidson lead to ten 31-21.

Davidson's relentless offense would respond with another mini spurt, outscoring Wofford 7-2 over the last five minutes of the half. The Wildcats would enter halftime up 38-23. It was similar to their first matchup I saw when they played back in December at Belk Arena. Davidson was up big early, 31-10, before Wofford used a 12-0 run to cut the lead to nine at the half, 31-22. The Terriers would cut it to four late but the Wildcats would eventually hold onto win 63-56. I wondered if there would be a similar outcome.

Wofford has a lot of unique promotional events during media timeouts. Three stood out. Early in the first half during the first media timeout, they had a "Cheeseburger in Paradise" promotion where the Wofford cheerleaders toss out wrapped McDonald's cheeseburgers in plastic bags. Guess who got one?

In the second half, they had "Steal a Meal". One fan gets a meal - a drink, burger and fries. But another fan gets to try to steal the meal. If they hit the layup, they get the drink. If they hit the free throw, they get the chips.  And if they bury the three pointer, they get the burger. It was a couple and thankfully for the wife, the husband missed all three attempts. I would love to play that game with my son (are you reading this, Wofford? :-) ).

Finally, at halftime, to celebrate the 75th year of the NCAA Tournament, Wofford is putting on a series of "re-creations" of famous plays from the NCAA Tournament. In this case, they tried to "recreate" the famous Christian Laettner game winning shot vs. Kentucky. One fan played Grant Hill with the inbounds pass at one end of the court. Two girls each got an attempt to play Laettner in catching the pass and turning around and hitting the shot. They were not successful in any of the attempts, which shows how difficult that play was to make.

The start of the second half saw Davidson maintain its double digit lead as Cohen scored six points in the first seven minutes of the half. Wofford kept within striking distance due in large part to Cochran and Collins, who scored all but two of the first fifteen Terriers' points in the first seven and a half minutes of the second half.

But after two straight Czerapowicz baskets put Davidson up by thirteen with ten minutes left, it didn't seem like Wofford would be able to get any closer. Enter the Australian sophomore point guard with the striking name of Indiana Faithfull. Faithfull would have a hand in the Terriers' next three baskets by hitting two three pointers and assisting on a Cochran layup. His second three pointer cut the Wildcats' lead to seven, 54-47 with seven a half minutes left.

A little later, Collins would get the Terriers's closer with a three point play to cut Davidson's lead to six, 59-53 with a little less than five minutes. That's when the fans started making some noise and you could tell the potential of how loud Johnson Arena can be with a full, noisy crowd.

Wofford had two chances to cut the lead even closer. But their two leading scorers, Cochran and Collins each committed a critical turnover. And when Jake Cohen buried a NBA three pointer to put Davidson up 64-53 with 1:10 left, that was the ball game. The Wildcats would eventually win 68-57.

Davidson had a very balanced attack with four scorers in double figures. Cohen led the Wildcats with fifteen points, eight rebounds, three steals and three blocks. Czerapowicz also had fifteen points and six rebounds. De'Mon Brooks and Droney each had thirteen points. Davidson shot forty eight percent from the field and an impressive twenty four of twenty seven from the charity stripe. Davidson is now 15-7 overall and 10-1 in conference.

Collins led all scorers with twenty four points on ten of nineteen from the field. Cochran added fourteen points. And Faithfull, who played all forty minutes of the game, had eight points, nine assists and six rebounds. A truly solid all around performance for the Australian. Wofford is 8-15 overall and now 2-8 in conference.

As I left Wofford walking through the commons area, reveling in the good time I had last evening, I saw the coffee bar was still open. It was tempting, but I figured I would visit that the next time. The next time I am at Wofford, I hope to have my color analyst, aka my seven year old son Matthew with me. The thought of sitting with him in the commons after the game, going over the contest and watching another basketball game sounds really appealing. That is something that should be shared.

Still, I really enjoyed myself last night. Thanks Wofford for a fun experience.

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