On Monday, Wofford announced plans for a new arena, a gift provided by alum and Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. The 92,000-square-foot facility is scheduled to open in September 2017. For now, the Benjamin Johnson Arena will do work just fine, as evident by the packed crowd on hand for the Terriers’ 7 a.m. tip with MAAC favorite Iona on Tuesday morning.
Wofford, the reigning Southern Conference champion, and favorite to retain that title, outdueled the Gaels, 86-73, in an offensive shootout to pick up its first win of the season.
The Terriers shot 54 percent from the field, including a 6-of-9 shooting from three in the second half (9-of-17 in the game) to turn a three-point halftime deficit into a 13-point victory.
Iona and Wofford traded the lead three times to begin the game before the Terriers began to attack the offensive glass, using second-chance points to spark a lengthy run to extend the lead to double-digits. Wofford led 60-56 when a Justin Gordon putback slam livened the 3,500 in attendance. A minute later Lee Skinner (15 points, nine rebounds) attacked the glass again leading to another second-chance bucket.
Wofford turned 11 offensive rebounds into 17 second-chance points.
Iona’s first half shooting as the morning coffee in Spartanburg, South Carolina: hot, converting on 56 percent its shots while connecting on 7-of-12 from beyond the arc. Although in the second half, a David Laury triple would account for the Gaels’ only deep ball (1-of-5). Laury and A.J. English made eight trips each to the line, converting on 13-of-16 attempts. Unfortunately, for almost seven minutes in the second half, that was the only source of offense for Tim Cluess’ program. In that span, Wofford turned a four-point lead into an 82-66 advantage.
Laury led all scorers with 23 points. English followed with 22 points, four rebounds and three assists. Karl Cochran (20 points) was one of four Terriers in double figures along with Skinner (15), Justin Gordon (13) and Jaylen Allen (11).
Wofford’s first win comes days after an opening night loss to Stanford. The Terriers travel to Fairfield on Friday night to take on another MAAC opponent. Iona, coming off a five-point win against Cleveland State, has a road meeting with Danny Manning and Wake Forest on Friday.
No league underwent as much of a makeover during this offseason as the Southern Conference. Four of the league’s 11 teams departed to different leagues this offseason, with Elon, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State departing for football purposes. The biggest hit, however, was the loss of Davidson, the league’s marquee program, to the Atlantic 10. That hurt, but the good news is that the three programs joining the conference this season — Mercer, East Tennessee State and VMI — all have quality basketball programs. Losing Steph Curry’s alma mater is tough to overcome, but the league may actually be tougher in the future with the new additions.
Everyone should be aware of Mercer. The Bears beat out Florida-Gulf Coast for the Atlantic Sun’s automatic bid last season, and they made the most of their NCAA tournament trip by knocking off No. 3 seed Duke in the opening round. But the Bears lose seven seniors and five starters from last year’s team, meaning that their first year in the SoCon will be spent in regrouping mode. VMI loses two of their three leading scorers, who averaged a combined 39.0 points, but they bring back sophomore Q.J. Peterson and bring back a roster that should allow them to be a factor in the league title race. The third new addition is East Tennessee State, who returns back court stars Rashawn Rembert and Jalen Riley, who should start this season, but will have to find a way to replace their front court.
The favorite in the SoCon this season will be Wofford, who played their way into the NCAA tournament a season ago by winning the league’s automatic bid despite finishing third in the regular season. Mike Young’s club returns essentially their enter roster from a season ago, a year that saw Young start ten different players at least five times during the regular season. It took Wofford awhile to find their rhythm last year, part of the reason that Young used so many different lineups, but once he found up that worked, the Terriers finished the season strong. Karl Cochran and Spencer Collins will anchor the back court, while Lee Skinner will be their biggest interior presence.
It won’t be easy for the Terriers, however, as Will Wade’s Chattanooga program will enter their second season playing ‘Chaos’. Wade is a member of Shaka Smart’s coaching tree, meaning that his goal is to eventually get the Mocs playing the full-court, all-out pressing style that has allowed VCU to be so successful. Wade is starting to get his players into the program, and while last season saw Chattanooga forced into more zone and half-court defense than Wade would have liked, this season will bring much more pressure and … chaos. Casey Jones and Rico White are the two players that will anchor the back court, but the guy to keep an eye on is Justin Tuoyo, a 6-foot-10 transfer that followed Wade from Richmond.
One team to keep an eye on is Furman. The Palladins were just 3-13 in the league last season, but they have a young and promising back court, headlined by Stephen Croome. Keep an eye on William Gates, the son of the star of the movie ‘Hoop Dreams’, who had a promising freshman season despite battling knee issues much of the year.
PRESEASON SOCON PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Karl Cochran, Wofford
Cochran averaged 15.7 points and 5.0 boards as a junior, a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that he’s just a 6-foot-1 guard. The leading scorer and best player on the Terriers, Cochran only started 22 of Wofford’s 33 games a season ago.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-SOCON TEAM:
Q.J. Peterson, VMI, So.: VMI’s system allows players to put up huge numbers, but Peterson averaged 19.0 points as a freshman.
Stephen Croome, Furman, Jr.: The 6-foot-0 guard averaged 19.1 points and 3.7 assists while helping change the culture of the Palladin program.
Lee Skinner, Wofford, Sr.: An undersized power forward, Skinner is the heart and soul of this year’s Wofford team.
Casey Jones, Chattanooga, Jr.: The leading returning scorer for the Mocs, Jones is a 6-foot-5 forward that should fit well into the ‘Chaos’ system Will Wade runs.
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3. East Tennessee State
7. Western Carolina
8. UNC Greensboro
9. The Citadel
Seeding?: In Dave Ommen’s most recent bracket, Wofford, which had earned the third seed in the conference tournament, was afforded the Southern’s auto bid. However, per Ommen, the bid could result in a trip to Dayton as one of the field’s last four teams.
Names you need to know: Karl Cochran (15.4 ppg, 38.9% 3FG%); Lee Skinner (11.2 ppg, 8.6 rpg)
Stats you need to know: Wofford posted the conference’s second stingiest defense, and the Terriers are known to excel at forcing turnovers and hauling in defensive boards. While Young’s squad doesn’t take many threes, they convert their limited attempts, and the offense has been boosted by the emergence of freshman Eric Garcia: over the past seven games, Garcia has used 303 possessions and dished out 24 assists.
Tendencies: Wofford has a very deliberate offense. While the team only uses 62 or so possessions per Southern contest, the squad isn’t a grind-it-out team; rather, they are opportunistic, working their halfcourt set until roughly 15 seconds remain in the shot clock — an approach makes the Terriers a difficult team to defend.
Big wins, bad losses: Wofford interestingly doesn’t have many bad losses — non-conference defeats to Iona, William & Mary, Georgia, VCU, and Saint Louis aren’t worth chiding — and four of their five conference losses were to either Chattanooga or Davidson, the top two seeds in the conference tourney. With that context, though, Wofford doesn’t have many big wins either.
How’d they get here?: By allowing other Southern teams to knock out the favorites. After an easy opening round thrashing of the Citadel, Wofford faced off against No. 7 seed Georgia Southern, which had defeated Chattanooga for the second time in 2014. Western Carolina overcame a second half double-digit deficit and knocked out tourney favorite Davidson, and while Monday’s night final was emotionally exhausting and thrilling to watch — the second half was filled with a bevy of threes — Wofford’s path back to the field of 68 was paved.
Outlook: The team certainly doesn’t lack for experience and postseason poise: this is the third time in five seasons the Terriers have earned the conference’s auto bid.
How do I know you?: The longtime coach at the Spartanburg-based school, Young has been a member of Wofford’s coaching staff since the program was at the Division II level. Sadly for those who pick their bracket based on the presence of colorful player names, Indiana Faithfull, a guard with arguably the best name in college hoops, left the team in mid-February.