They may not have been as overpowering as the last time they set foot in McKenzie Arena, but the Wofford Terriers were plenty good enough.
The defending Southern Conference tournament champions took a first step toward repeating Saturday afternoon with a 69-56 dispatching of Appalachian State. The win came 10 days after the Terriers made a mockery out of UTC's senior night with a 97-58 trouncing.
"The tournament is such a different feel, and the opening game has the nerves and the crowd," said Wofford senior forward Noah Dahlman, who scored a game-high 21 points. "It's not the same feeling as a regular-season game. The intensity picks up a little bit, and you saw that with App State playing us even in the first half, so I wouldn't say we came in here with any kind of comfort level at all."
Wofford's 2010 SoCon tournament title was its first, and the Terriers became favorites for this year's crown with a five-game winning streak to close the 2010-11 regular season. Wofford coach Mike Young was asked if his players felt any kind of target on their backs, and he smiled.
"It's a circus in our locker room," Young said. "There is no such thing as pressure. They absolutely thrive on the opportunity to go into situations like this."
The Terriers (19-12) will continue their title defense against Western Carolina in tonight's first semifinal. Omar Carter gave Appalachian State (16-15) its lone lead of the second half at 38-37 on a jump shot with 16:31 remaining, but Wofford countered with a 22-7 run to put the game away. Three inside baskets by the driving Jamar Diggs enabled the Terriers to go up 47-40, and a layup by Dahlman at the 8:30 mark gave Wofford its first double-digit lead at 55-45.
Wofford led most of the first half, but Appalachian State tied it at 32 just before intermission on a pair of Nathan Healy free throws with 6.9 seconds remaining. The Terriers took their largest first-half lead at the 9:22 mark on a Kevin Giltner 3-pointer that made it 23-16.
"That's a very tough team that is very sound in every aspect of the game," ASU coach Jason Capel said. "I thought we had a really good half and just ran out of gas a little bit. Our first half was as good a half as we've played all year, because we set the tone and brought the physicality, but to beat them you have to do that for 40 minutes."