Tiny Wofford has shot its way into the Top 25 from distance
SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) — Little-bitty Wofford was a long shot to make a run into the Top 25.
So the No. 24 Terriers embraced the challenge — literally.
Led by the 3-point shooting of Fletcher Magee, the Terriers have won 15 straight and jumped into the national rankings for the first time in school history.
Magee, second all-time in NCAA made 3-pointers after surpassing the likes of Stephen Curry and J.J. Redick, believes this is just a warm up for what Wofford (24-4, 16-0 Southern Conference) is capable of achieving this season with March looming.
"I don't want to get caught up in what I'm doing individually," Magee said. "I just want to concentrate on what I can do to help us win."
The Terriers have done plenty of that this season.
Their victories include an 81-61 beat down at South Carolina in November. Their run of 15 in a row is second in the country behind the 18 straight won by No. 1 Gonzaga. Wofford and the Zags are the only remaining undefeated Division I conference leaders left in college basketball.
"We've got a pretty good thing going here," said Mike Young, in his 17th season.
The Terriers play for the first time as a ranked team Thursday night at Chattanooga (12-7, 7-9).
Success on the hardwood at Wofford starts with Magee . He's a 6-foot-4 senior from Orlando, Florida, who Young said was the best shooter in the Sunshine State coming out of First Academy school.
Magee hasn't disappointed. He has 477 career 3-pointers, 27 short of the mark of 504 set by Oakland's Travis Bader from 2010-2014.
"I always felt I was able to score," he said.
Magee has consistently demonstrated that during his Wofford career, helping the mid-major program to upsets of Power Five teams Georgia Tech, North Carolina and the Gamecocks the past two seasons.
He hit the game-winning three with less than two seconds left to beat the Yellow Jackets and made a go-ahead layup with less than two minutes left to shock the Tar Heels for Wofford's first ever win over a ranked opponent in Division I history.
But a 56-55 loss to top-seeded UNC Greensboro in the Southern Conference Tournament semis ended Wofford's season short of its goals.
After going through NBA evaluations last spring, Magee was certain he'd return for a final try at getting Wofford to its first NCAA Tournament.
"I knew pretty much I was coming back," Magee said. "We had things to accomplish."
Magee and Young swear Wofford is more than one-man team. Forward Cameron Jackson, a senior, is second behind Magee in scoring with 14.4 points and leads the Terriers with 7.8 rebounds a game. Nathan Hoover, a junior guard, is also averaging in double-digit points and is second to Magee with 70 threes of his own. Hoover made nine 3-pointers in the win over South Carolina.
Wofford is a private liberal arts college of fewer than 1,600 students, perhaps best known to NFL fans as summer home of the Carolina Panthers. But the Terriers have had a strong basketball presence this decade, Young leading them to four NCAA Tournaments during a six-season stretch from 2010-2015..
Magee said he and his older teammates see the past banners and trophies and long for a piece of their own history.
"It's something we've wanted since I came here, playing in the NCAA Tournament," he said.
The Terriers have already clinched the No. 1 seed in the Southern Conference and are strong favorites to win the league's tournament — and gain its automatic bid to the NCAAs — next month. If Wofford stumbles, Young believes his team has an at-large resume impressive enough to sway the most skeptical of NCAA selectors.
Wofford's only defeats this season have been to Power Five programs in North Carolina, Oklahoma, Kansas and Mississippi State. The Terriers are 19th in the NET rankings, ahead of expected NCAA teams in Kansas in 20th, then Maryland, Louisville, Auburn and Cincinnati.
"We've done what they asked us to do," Young said.
Magee, who leads Division I with 126 3-pointers this season, can't totally escape hearing about his record chase. Friends and classmates keep him updated on the tally. Redick, who Magee spoke to about basketball and life before the season began, sent him a congratulatory text after he moved past the Philadelphia 76ers sharpshooter into second on the college list. Those will be cherished memories for later on, Magee said.
"It's something I can look back at someday and be proud of," Magee said. "Right now, I'm focused on the present and on us continuing to play as well as we have."