Saturday, February 1, 2014

A Night of Cold Shots in Spartanburg (Recap of Kennesaw State v. USC Upstate)

And that's a cold shot, baby
Yeah that's a drag
That's a cold shot, baby
We've let our love go bad

"Cold Shot" by Stevie Ray Vaughan
Earlier this week, it was cold enough in South Carolina that the entire state either saw sleet, freezing rain or snow on Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, causing schools to close and delay openings for several days and a good number of accidents on state highways.  Columbia picked up three inches of snow.

The snowstorm didn't do as much damage to South Carolina as it did in Georgia.  It was so icy that roads became impassable.  Cars barely moved on roads for hours.  All of the major highways in Atlanta became scenes from the Walking Dead as cars were abandoned by people who walked to nearby hotels and even strangers' houses who offered to put up people for the night thanks to a Facebook page.

It also resulted in the postponement of several games including the Kennesaw State - USC Upstate game Thursday night because the Owls couldn't get out of Georgia due to the condition of the roads.  Thus the game was rescheduled for Friday night at the Hodge Center, which allowed me to attend the game.

Earlier in the season, Kennesaw State knocked off USC Upstate at home 68-58.  In that game, the Owls had four players in double figures scoring, shot forty three percent from beyond the arc and hit on twenty one of their twenty five free throws.  Kennesaw State led by as much as eighteen points as they won their first and only game so far this season in Atlantic Sun conference play.  Friday night would turn out to be a much different matter.

I left work at 5:00 PM and made the ninety plus minute trip from Columbia to Spartanburg.  One of the interesting things about the Hodge Center is that they offer general admission as well as reserved seating, which is kind of unusual since the gym only holds 818.   But if general admission is available, you can sit in the A section mid level for eight dollars.  The only difference is that you are not sitting center court but on one of end of the court, which is no big deal. Throw in a over-buttery pretzel for two dollars and you have yourself a relatively inexpensive evening.

Despite missing second leading scorer Ty Greene to an injury, the Spartans jumped out early thanks to Ricardo Glenn's aggressive post play.  Glenn scored six of the first ten USC Upstate points. A pretty feed by Fred Miller resulted in a "Big Mike" Buchanan layup as the Spartans led 10-6. Meanwhile, Kennesaw State's three point shooting was as icy as the Atlanta roads on Tuesday.  In the first three and a half minutes, they missed all four of their three point attempts.

But the Owls responded with a 7-0 spurt.  After a three point play by Nate Rucker, Yonel Brown assisted on an Orlando Coleman layup to give Kennesaw State a 13-10 lead with a little over twelve minutes left in the half.  Brown, very generously listed at five foot nine, was serenaded by the Spartans' student section with a chant of "Little Boy" every time he touched the ball.

The teams would trade the lead and cold spells several times over the next several minutes.  The Owls would go four plus minutes without hitting a basket as Glenn would give the Spartans a 14-13 lead.  It would be a reserve forward that would break the scoring drought for Kennesaw State.

Willy Kouassi, a six foot ten sophomore forward who went scoreless in fourteen minutes of action in the first game between the teams, gave the Owls a much needed inside scoring presence.  Over the span of about three and a half minutes, Kouassi would score eight points and assist on another basket.   His jumper gave Kennesaw State a 24-22 lead at the under four minute media timeout.

For some reason, the Spartans had moved away from getting the ball inside to Glenn and settled instead for three point shots that equally matched the Owls' frigid shooting beyond the arc.  USC Upstate missed on all ten of their three point attempts in the first half.   The Owls had six of the last eight points that were scored in the last three minutes and forty two seconds of the half.  Kennesaw State limped into the half with a 28-26 lead.

The two teams combined to miss on all seventeen of their three point attempts in the first half.  Thanks to Kouassi hitting on five of his first six field goal attempts, Kennesaw State shot thirty eight percent despite missing all seven of their shots beyond the arc.  USC Upstate only shot thirty four percent and also missed on three of their seven free throws.  Both teams had eleven field goals in the first half and the difference was two more free throws by the Owls.

In the second half, after Kouassi made one of two free throws, Spartans' forward Torrey Craig FINALLY hit the first three pointer of the game by both teams, which tied the game at twenty nine.  But once again, both teams would hit a cold spell as there was no scoring whatsoever over the next two and half plus minutes.  Delbert Love would eventually hit a layup to give Kennesaw State a 31-29 lead with sixteen minutes left.

But it would be the last field goal the Owls would make for the next five minutes as Myles Hamilton would do all their scoring with four free throws.  Despite that, the Spartans couldn't take advantage.   After a Jodd Maxey layup for USC Upstate, the game was tied at thirty five.  Hamilton would finally end Kennesaw State's field goal drought with a layup to put the Owls back up 37-35.  After Fred Miller gave the Spartans the lead back with a three pointer, Bernard Morena would respond with a basket and Kennesaw State had a 39-38 lead with ten minutes left.

It would be the last lead of the game for the Owls.

USC Upstate got the ball back inside to Glenn, who was fouled and made two free throws.  Then Craig  got the crowd of six hundred plus into the game by burying another three pointer. Maxey followed with a jumper to put the Spartans up 45-39 and Kennesaw State called a thirty second timeout.   Two Hamilton free throws stemmed the tide for a little bit as the Owls were only down four, 45-41.

But Glenn again was big, hitting a layup and one.  His three point play extended the lead to seven 48-41.  Four USC Upstate free throws later made the score 52-41.   The Spartans had outscored the Owls 14-2 over the span of four and half minutes.

A Karim Mawuenyega three pointer extended the USC Upstate lead to fourteen, 57-43.  Mawuenyega was fouled on his next three point shot attempt, which went in and out, much to the dismay of the Spartans' fans.  Instead of a potential four point play, Mawuenyega had to settle for three free throw attempts.  Unfortunately, he missed on all three attempts.

All that was left was whether Kennesaw State would actually hit a three pointer.  Taylor Wozniak finally made one to make the score 57-46.  But it was the only one the Owls hit on the day as they were an Antarctic one of fourteen from beyond the arc.  USC Upstate would go onto win 65-48.

In the three games I have now seen USC Upstate play in person, Glenn has had a double double in each of them.  He led all scorers with nineteen points and added twelve rebounds.  Craig also had a double double with sixteen points and eleven rebounds. Maxey added twelve points for the Spartans who shot thirty eight percent from the field, including a frosty four of twenty one from beyond the arc.

Kouassi, who hails from the Ivory Coast, also had a double double, leading the Owls with fifteen points and eleven rebounds. The career high fifteen points matched his output from his previous game, a loss to Florida Gulf Coast.  Hamilton was the only other Owl in double figures with ten points.  The Owls only shot thirty one percent from the field and were not exactly on fire from the line as they only made thirteen of their twenty one free throws.

USC Upstate now finds itself in fourth place in the Atlantic Sun with a 5-4 conference record.  They have a chance to improve their standing in the A-Sun when they host first place Mercer on Sunday.  The temperature on Sunday in South Carolina should be close to seventy degrees.

Hopefully the warm front will mean warmer shooting at the Hodge Center.

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