Photo courtesy and Story by Brandon Boyer
One three-pointer. Just one.
One three-pointer that clanged off the rim, shot by a Western Carolina player in the last 0.6 seconds of the Southern Conference Championship game, is the difference between the SoCon shipping a 3rd seeded team or a 5th seeded team to their death in The Big Dance.
To put it in perspective, SB Nation put it best when previewing the now-past 2014 SoCon Championship game: “Neither team is great at anything — remember, this is the No. 5 seed and No. 3 seed in a weak conference.”
Let’s not mince words here: There is nothing special about this Wofford team.
They didn’t defeat a handful of nationally-ranked teams. They didn’t blowout their opponents by 40 points or more. They didn’t even play the top two teams in the tournament.
What made Wofford champions is the fact that they were helped by a simply sad UNC-Greensboro team and a spunky Georgia Southern team. UNCG managed to not play the first half against a Citadel side that had the wind at their back. It was a loss that should have never happened to a 6th seeded team. Then Georgia Southern decided to play out of their skins against a wobbly No. 2 Chattanooga team and beat them.
That set the path for Wofford. All they had to do was play 11th seeded Citadel and an 8th seeded Georgia Southern team to make it to the Championship game.
Meanwhile, Western Carolina had to play against 4th ranked Elon and the number 1 seed, Davidson. Improbable, but not impossible for the Catamounts.
They made it difficult on themselves by not playing the first half in either of those games, being down by 9 to Elon and 10 to Davidson at halftime in both of those games. Then they took Davidson to overtime, beat them with 3.3 seconds left and punched their ticket to the final. Entirely understated for the Catamounts, but a superhuman effort by Brandon Boggs, Tre Sumler and Company.
So, Wofford was handed this mentally and physically exhausted Western Carolina team in the Championship team. A team they had beaten 71-60 during the regular season. A team that was just three wins over .500 for the season, but turned up in Cinderella mode against the two best teams in the tournament.
And therein lies the problem for Wofford. They were never challenged until the final. They led by 11 with less than nine minutes to play, but managed to let that lead slip to one measly point against a team that could barely jog up and down the court.
Wofford will be heading to Dayton to have their butts handed to them by a more talented mid-major side. It will happen. As much as I will cheer on my Southern Conference foe in The Big Dance, there isn’t hope for them.
So, get your celebrations in now, Wofford. Because this is as good as it’s going to get.