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Old Gold & Black

Old Gold & Black

The Quest To Cut The Net

Forward+Sam+Godwin+%E2%80%9924+%28%2314%29+and+Guard+Ryan+Larson+%E2%80%9922+%28%2311%29+go+up+for+a+rebound+against+the+Citadel+on+Feb.+17.+The+Terriers+would+go+on+to+win%2C+81-67.+Photo+courtesy+of+Natalie+Aversano.
Forward Sam Godwin ’24 (#14) and Guard Ryan Larson ’22 (#11) go up for a rebound against the Citadel on Feb. 17. The Terriers would go on to win, 81-67. Photo courtesy of Natalie Aversano.

Wofford basketball gears up for the SoCon tournament

Caption: Forward Sam Godwin ’24 (#14) and Guard Ryan Larson ’22 (#11) go up for a rebound against the Citadel on Feb. 17. The Terriers would go on to win, 81-67. Photo courtesy of Natalie Aversano.

Another Terrier basketball regular season is in the books, as both the men’s and women’s basketball teams found themselves in position to play the entirety of their conference schedules on the way to the ultimate showdown in Asheville: the Southern Conference tournament.

The women’s team finished the regular season in fourth place in the SoCon with an 11-10 overall record and a 7-7 conference record. The team finished its home season on Feb. 11 and 13, splitting a series against Samford with a win Thursday and a loss Saturday before going on the road to Mercer, where they came up short in two close games in Macon. They wrapped up the regular season with a rivalry matchup against Furman in Greenville, falling 58-52.

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2020 SoCon Freshman of the Year Lilly Hatton ’23 said that, while beating a team two times in a season is hard enough, being the same team two times in three days is an even harder challenge.

“The schedule allows both teams to make immediate adjustments after the Thursday night game and implement them on Saturday,” Hatton said. “Overall, I think this schedule has forced our team to grow mentally tougher.”

Head Coach Jimmy Garrity echoed Hatton’s opinions, adding that, while he began the season optimistically, the toughness of the Southern Conference’s players and coaches threw a wrench into things.

“Early on,” Garrity said, “I thought, ‘you know what? This is gonna be alright. I think I might like this,’ because we’re always constantly up here scouting and getting prepared for the game.”

In the midst of that scouting, Garrity said, the team usually used the Fridays in between games to watch hours of film and correct defensive errors from the first game. Even with that, though, Saturday games around the SoCon proved to be even tougher and more intense than Thursday games.

“It’s tough to win back to back games against the same opponent,” Garrity said, “and I think it’s just human nature. If you look throughout the league, we’ve won some games in the 20s on Thursday, and then either lose Saturday, or go into double overtime, or a tough win.”

Nevertheless, the Terriers make a concerted effort in practices to simulate the various time-score situations that the team may find itself in, and Garrity believes that, while it is not quite the same as experiencing the “trial and error” of an actual game, it has a positive impact on players and coaches to not be unfamiliar with pressurized late-game scenarios.

Going into the tournament in Asheville, Hatton said that she is confident in the team’s depth and various scoring options to make them more difficult to scout and defend.

“On most teams,” she said, “only seven or eight players play the majority of the minutes. On our team, all thirteen of our players could have a big night, especially if they were overlooked on another team’s scouting report.”

While the women’s basketball program has certainly made strides under Garrity since his arrival at Wofford, Hatton did admit that, while everyone in the program is proud of the team’s historic accomplishments over the last two seasons, they remain committed to the main goal: capturing an elusive Southern Conference championship.

“Our players and coaches are excited by what we have been able to accomplish both last season and so far this season,” she said, “but we aren’t satisfied with just having a winning record or being competitive within our conference. Those things are concrete evidence of our program’s progress, but we are still after a championship.”

The Terriers’ tournament journey begins on March 4 with a rubber match against UNCG at 2:15 p.m.

On the men’s side, the top four of the SoCon — Wofford, ETSU, UNCG and Furman — looked to remain atop the standings, but a late-season surge by Chattanooga propelled the Mocs to fourth place in the SoCon with ETSU finishing fifth.

It was no easy ride for Coach Jay McAuley and the Terriers, who found themselves in physical battles night in and night out on the road to finish the regular season in second place in the conference with a 15-8 overall record and a 12-5 conference record.

The regular season ended with a back-and-forth battle against in-state rival Furman. Timely baskets by Morgan Stafford ‘23 and Messiah Jones ‘22 allowed the Terriers to survive senior night, winning 74-73.

“The SoCon as a whole, offensively, is the most efficient set of schools,” McAuley said, “which is also a tough thing to prepare for every single game that you go into. Every team poses a different set of challenges and problems to deal with.”

Led by seniors Storm Murphy and Tray Hollowell, the Terriers entered this season with a target on their backs despite having much roster turnover and starting the season with injury and illness concerns about freshman guards Max Klesmit and Keaton Turner. As the season rolled on, however, and as Klesmit, Turner, Austin Patterson ‘24 played more and more minutes, the Terriers started to find their groove.

McAuley lauded Turner’s resiliency to overcome an illness early in the season that sidelined him for weeks.

“To see Keaton kind of go through some tough stretches,” he said, “he got sick a little bit and had to bounce back, he missed some practice time with a thing that kept him out for a month — for him to kind of stick with it mentally and push through and now he’s playing a lot of good ball for us, it’s great to see.”

As for Patterson and Klesmit, there was no shortage of praise there, either. McAuley noted Patterson’s confidence and Klesmit’s consistency as key factors in the Terriers’ sustained success despite the adversity of a COVID-19-altered season.

Looking ahead to the tournament, though McAuley feels that his team is the best in the league when the players “play really, really hard and we play for each other,” he acknowledges that the competition will demand the very best of the Terriers each day if they hope to make a deep run.

“There’s not really an easy team in the league,” McAuley said, “so you’re gonna have to play somebody really tough in the tournament. You’re gonna have to be on your A game.”

As with any season, though McAuley believes that his team will embrace the target on its back, embrace the underdog role, and embrace the physicality of the game every time it steps on the court.

“Everybody’s got a target on our back gunning for us,” he said. “We like the underdog role, we like the edginess role, and everybody doubting us role. I think that’s when we’re at our best.”

Hollowell echoed McAuley’s feelings, adding that the team plays every game as though it is the postseason.

“I believe that our team goes into every game with a postseason mentality,” Hollowell said, “so when it gets to that point, we are ready and prepared for whatever a team might throw at us. Obviously, when it gets to postseason games, (things) will intensify even more because it’s win or go home, but at this time we will trust our coaches and do what we do.”

The men’s SoCon tournament opens March 5, and the Terriers await the end of the first round to find out who they will face in the quarterfinals on March 6.

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