Appalachian State Begins Crucial Home Stretch Wednesday Night Against Citadel

John Hooper@soconjohn22Correspondent IIFebruary 20, 2013

The Citadel (6-19, 3-12 SoCon) at Appalachian State (12-14, 8-7 SoCon)

Feb. 20, 2013, 8:00 p.m.

Boone, N.C., Holmes Convocation Center (8,549)

Game Preview:

Appalachian State will open a three-game home slate, which will carry the Mountaineers into the 2013 Southern Conference Tournament as they head down the stretch in control of their own destiny.

With three wins, the Mountaineers will likely finish second in the North Divison, which will allow the Apps to garner one of the Top four seeds for the nation's oldest postseason conference tournament coming up in a couple of weeks.

The Mountaineers come into Wednesday night's action against The Citadel coming off a huge league win, as the Black and Gold went on the road and claimed a huge 76-68 win over The Citadel Bulldogs on Sunday afternoon to close out the road slate and complete the season sweep of the UNCG Spartans.

That win allowed the Mountaineers to remain in the middle of the North Division logjam, which includes a trio of teams vying for that all-important No. 4 seed in the Southern Conference Tournament, as the Mountaineers are now tied for third place in the SoCon North with Western Carolina, while Samford sits a half-game ahead of ASU, but the Samford Bulldogs pay a visit to the Holmes Convocation Center on Feb. 28 in what figures to be another monumental Southern Conference North Division clash.

After Wednesday night's contest between the Bulldogs and Mountaineers, ASU will have an eight-day lay-off before hitting the hardwood once again for that game against Samford.

Wednesday's meeting between the Mountaineers and Bulldogs will mark the 76th all-time clash between the two schools on the basketball hardwood, and the only regular-season meeting between the two this season. The Mountaineers hold a commanding 51-24 all-time series advantage against the Bulldogs, including a solid 28-6 all-time series edge in Boone. 

The Bulldogs, however, have been dominant in the series since the 2008-09 season, having claimed five of the last seven matchups between the two programs, including all three meetings between the two in the 2008-09 season. Prior to The Citadel's recent run of success against the Mountaineers, ASU had claimed 17-straight victories against the Bulldogs. 

The Citadel will be looking to put an end to a four-game losing streak, which was preceded by back-to-back conference wins, accounting for two of the Bulldogs' three wins in Southern Conference play this season. The Bulldogs dropped their latest game at home to the Davidson Wildcats on Saturday night, with a 72-57 setback to the Wildcats. 

In the lone meeting between the Mountaineers and Bulldogs last season at McAlister Field House on the campus of The Citadel, the Bulldogs claimed their third in final Southern Conference win of the 2011-12 season, with a 62-51 win over the Mountaineers on Feb. 22, 2012.

The Bulldogs got great play out of their front court, with a trio totaling double figures in the win, led by Mike Groselle's 18 points, while Bo Holston added his first career double-double, with 13 points and 10 boards, while C.J. Bray rounded out the double figure scorers with 10 points.

It was a night in which the Mountaineers struggled shooting the basketball to say the least, as the Mountaineers had one of their worst shooting performances of the season with a 35.7-percent clip (20-of-57) from the field for the game. Leading the scoring efforts for the Mountaineers was Nathan Healy's 19 points.   

Both teams have pretty solid guard play, with Appalachian State seemingly having an advantage in the front court, with the ability to platoon players in the low post. The Bulldogs, who suffered an early-season injury to C.J. Bray at Charleston Southern ending his season prematurely, don't enjoy that same luxury.

Leading the Appalachian State backcourt this season have been point guard Mike Neal (8.8 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 60 assists) and shooting guard Tab Hamilton (9.7 PPG, 2.3 RPG). Neal has had some strong performances in the ASU lineup this season, and he is coming off a 10-point, six-assist performance in the win at UNCG on Sunday afternoon.  Neal has eight double-figure scoring efforts this season for ASU, with his top scoring performance coming in an 80-70 win over Elon in Boone, posting a season-high 19 points in the win.

Hamilton is one of the Mountaineers' top perimeter shooters this season, having knocked down 43 trifectas this season for Jason Capel's Mountaineers. Hamilton has 12 double-figure scoring performances this season for the Apps, but has been held under double digits in each of the last four outings for ASU, including scoring just seven points in the win at UNCG on Sunday. Hamilton posted a season-high 21 points in a loss at Chattanooga back in January. 

Set to provide depth in the backcourt on Wednesday night will be Chris Burgess (3.0 PPG,1.0 RPG, 41 assists), who will back up Neal at the point guard position, and will be most remembered for his three-pointer in the waning moments of the first overtime win by ASU over Georgia Southern this season, while Frank Eaves (2.3 PPG, 0.3 RPG) and Jamaal Trice (6.1 PPG, 2.0 RPG) will see action at shooting guard. 

The Citadel brings a solid backcourt contingent to Boone for the mid-week SoCon North-South clash, with Marshall Harris III (6.5 PPG, 5.0 APG) slated to start at the point guard for the Bulldogs, while he will likely be joined by Raemond Robinson (3.6 PPG, 1.6 RPG) who started the last game out for the Bulldogs against Davidson. 

Harris has been the straw that stirs the drink for the Bulldogs this season, and he comes in leading the conference in helpers dished out per game this season, averaging 5.0 assists per outing. Robinson was effective in the Bulldogs' last game against the Wildcats, as he posted eight points, seven assists and four rebounds in the loss. Harris, meanwhile, had five points and three assists in the contest against the Wildcats on Saturday.

Rounding out the starting trio in the backcourt for the Bulldogs on Wednesday night against the Mountaineers will be one of the league's most impressive freshman to this point in the season, in Matt Van Scyoc (10.9 PPG, 3.2 RPG), who is one of three Bulldog players who enters the contest averaging in double figures.

Van Scyoc's greatest asset is his ability to shoot the three, having connected on a team-best 48 triples so far this season, and is shooting 36.9-percent (48-of-130) from three-point range this season. He drained a pair of three-pointers in the loss at Davidson, while also finished with three assists and a pair of blocked shots. Van Scyoc has 14 double-figure scoring performances this season, with three 20-point performances. His top game of the season came in the Bulldogs' first conference win at Georgia Southern back on Jan. 19, scoring 21 points, including going 5-for-8 from three-point range.

Off the bench in the Bulldogs' backcourt, look for Dylen Setzkorn (3.7 PPG, 1.5 RPG), Ashton Moore (6.3 PPG, 1.5 RPG) and Janeil Jenkins (2.6 PPG, 0.6 RPG) to log action off the bench. Jenkins recently became the seventh non-starter for the Bulldogs to notch a double-digit scoring effort this season, as he did so against Samford with 13 points in a loss.

Appalachian's front court has been one of the strengths for Jason Capel's club during the 2012-13 campaign, and the two main cogs in that front court are also making a strong bid for all-conference accolades this season, in Nathan Healy (14.8 PPG, 7.7 RPG) and Jay Canty (14.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG). 

Both have had outstanding seasons for the Apps, and for Healy, it has been the best of his four seasons in Boone, as he has transitioned himself into a go-to-player for the Apps from a role player, which he was in his previous three seasons for the Apps. In the win over UNCG on Sunday afternoon, Healy added 16 points and six boards in the latest win over UNCG. 

Healy comes into the home stretch of his career, as he will be playing his final three games in the Black and Gold in front of the home folks at the Holmes Convocation Center, and in his senior season, he has 21 double-figure scoring performances this season, including scoring a season and career-high 24 points on four occasions this season, with his last 24-point effort coming in an overtime win at Georgia Southern a few weeks ago.

The Mountaineers are 3-1 in those games when Healy totals 24 points, with the only loss coming against East Carolina early in the season, with an 82-72 loss at East Carolina. The three wins when Healy scores 24 points have all come against SoCon foes. 

His 24-point effort against Western Carolina earlier this season was one of the best all-around efforts by any player in Division I college basketball this season, as he posted eight boards and a career-high and tied a school record with seven steals in the win over the Catamounts. No player in NCAA Division I Basketball has registered as complete a stat line in all categories this season. 

Canty originally transferred into ASU from Xavier and since has become one of the SoCon's top newcomers this season, and he enjoyed an outstanding effort in ASU's win over UNCG on Sunday afternoon, posting 17 points, nine boards and six assists, offering one of his more complete efforts of his career as a Mountaineer.

Canty, a 6-6, 200-pound native of Jamestown, N.C., has scored in double figures in six of his last seven outings for the Mountaineers. He battled some injury issues a couple of weeks ago, but is back to 100-percent now. He has 19 double-figure scoring performances this season for the Mountaineers, with his top effort of the season being a 29-point effort in a loss at Missouri. 

The third player in that ASU starting front court is Michael Obacha (5.0 PPG, 4.6 RPG), who  has improved as much as any player on the ASU roster from the beginning of the season until now. Obacha reminds me a lot of Healy early in his career, as he has shown glimpses of being a future scorer for the Mountaineers, but has shown that night-in and night-out he's going to bring the effort to the team.

Obacha had the best offensive game of his career last week in a win over Furman, posting 14 points and five boards, and has scored in double figures in two out of his last three games, including 11 points in the win at UNCG on Sunday. 

Tevin Baskin (10.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG) has molded himself into one of the best sixth men in Southern Conference Basketball this season, and has 14 double-figure efforts off the bench for the Mountaineers and he gives Jason Capel a solid answer off the bench in the front court when Healy or Canty need a breather, and there's little drop-off in terms of scoring production.

The Citadel brings a front court player in Mike Groselle (15.1 PPG, 7.3 RPG) to the Holmes Center, who is among the top low-post players in the SoCon and mid-major college basketball. Groselle is leading the league in field goal percentage (58.2%) this season, and that has helped the Bulldogs parlay that into 11 games in which the team has shot better than 50-percent from the field in a game this season. It became the first team in school history to accomplish that feat, surpassing the 2011-12 squad, which shot at a 50-percent clip or better in 10 games. 

Groselle was 10-of-14 from the field, scoring 21 points in the loss to Davidson Saturday night, and comes into Wednesday's game with 20 double-figure games this season for the Bulldogs. He posted a season-high 24 points in a 69-63 win over Wofford.

P.J. Horgan (11.1 PPG, 6.4 RPG) will team with Groselle in the paint, and Horgan has done a nice job of stepping into the starting five for the Bulldogs since the injury-bug affected the Bulldogs in the non-conference, with C.J. Bray going down with a season-ending injury in a loss at Charleston Southern. Horgan has scored in double figures for the Bulldogs in five out of the last six games, including a career-high 25 points in the loss at Chattanooga. 

Look for the Bulldogs to keep this close early, but ASU has too much to play for down the stretch to lose this game, and though the Bulldogs have been playing better, the Bulldogs lack the depth to be a factor down the stretch in this game. However, if ASU lets Groselle and Horgan get position underneath, then the Bulldogs have a shot at springing the road upset. ASU is 8-3 at the Holmes Center this season, including 5-1 in league play.

FINAL SCORE PREDICTION: Appalachian State 74, The Citadel 64


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