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Mike Lopresti | | November 19, 2019

How Wofford basketball is approaching one of the nation's toughest schedules with new-look roster, same-old moxie

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INDIANAPOLIS — Know who owns the nation’s longest non-conference home-court winning streak? Duke, at a staggering 150 games.

Know who’s No. 2? Butler, at an eye-popping 54.

Know who the only team is in the country playing both teams on their home courts this season?

Those intrepid travelers, the Wofford Terriers.

“We’ve always played a really tough schedule,” Wofford coach Jay McAuley is saying Saturday night in Hinkle Fieldhouse, where his Terriers are about to go against Butler’s streak. “Last year we had the sixth strongest non-conference strength of schedule, this year we have No. 1. That helps prepare us for March, which we’re usually involved in. Our kids don’t really flinch much in those moments. They like it, that’s who we recruit.

”The other component is, when you’re winning in your program, not a whole lot of people are signed up to play you, so we have trouble finding games at times.”

You remember Wofford, the little team that could last season. Led by a fearless gunslinger named Fletcher Magee, the Terriers won 30 games, knocked off Seton Hall in the NCAA tournament, and scared the blue out of Kentucky in the second round. Except Magee is gone and so is coach Mike Young — departed for Virginia Tech — and now his top assistant McAuley is in charge, hoping to keep the good times going. That would mean making a run at the Southern Conference title again, which is how Wofford has played in five NCAA tournaments the past 10 years.

But first comes the non-conference schedule, which is a trial by fire, especially for a team that lost 65 percent of its scoring from last season.

So here they are in Butler Saturday, when the shooting goes cold. A 38.6 percent night leads to an 80-61 loss. The Bulldogs home streak clicks up another number that makes Wofford 2-2. “Overall, a lot to build on,” McAuley says afterward.  “We don’t typically shoot like that, nor can we afford to.”

The Duke streak? That’ll probably be waiting for the Terriers when they visit Cameron Indoor Stadium Dec. 19.  There's more. Four days before that, Wofford is at North Carolina. It’s the Tobacco Road two-step.

“Thanks Mike Young, I appreciate that,” McAuley joked, referring to the non-conference schedule left on his desk by his predecessor.

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A game at Missouri this Monday won’t be any picnic, either.

Not that McAuley really minds. He likes his kids to get an inside look at classic college basketball locales. Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse, for instance, the site of Hoosiers. “Our guys are all basketball junkies. They see the tournament every year and how Butler has been a success, and they’ve heard of this place and the history that goes into it. This is one of the best venues in college basketball, so our guys are excited to play here.”

He likes the exposure for the program. Wofford got a ton of that last March in the NCAA tournament. Its games were among the most watched the first week of the tournament. “A lot of people got to see us play and how we play, and I think people value the way we play the game the right way. We’ll try to continue to do that,” he said.  “When we go recruiting or we’re in the airports, everybody says it’s Wah-ford, they used to pronounce it Wore-ford. So now they’re pronouncing it right.”

Yeah, when strangers stop mangling your name, you know you’ve made a dent. When your team is a TV star in March, from a school of under 1,700 students, you know you’ve made a dent. The Terriers will try continue the momentum this season in some famous and foreboding places, using heart, nerve and the willingness to fire away from the 3-point line to make up for size. Their lineup at Butler was led by 5-11 guard Storm Murphy and had only one player taller than 6-5.

“We’re different this year,” McAuley said. “Our guys are anxious to prove themselves and to prove that this team can do some good things as well.

“All I’m concerned about and our guys are concerned about is getting better every day, as cliché as that sounds. This is helping us prepare if we treat it the right way.”

About that swing of North Carolina on Sunday and Duke on Thursday in December. Maybe the Terriers can get a look around Chapel Hill and Durham on the off days? Uh, no. They’re going back to campus in Spartanburg, S.C. the days in between — a 3 1/2-hour bus trip away. “I wish we had an unlimited budget, but we don’t,” McAuley said.

What they do have is moxie, and the knowledge that nobody anywhere will face more long home-court winning streaks this season.

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