McAlister Field House is an old historic building on the northwest corner of the Citadel's campus. It was built in 1939, and was renovated in 1989. When inside the building, one can see the Citadel's attempt to modernize an old building. VIP luxury areas, both at the top of the arena and courtside, have been added in recent years. Reserved seating and bleachers in the interior of the 6,000 seat arena look nice and new, but a quick glance at the walls and the rafters shows the age of the building. The exterior hallways of the building are not very spacious and cramped. Despite recent renovations, McAlister Field House preserves much of its 72 year history.
Perhaps the most notable of former Bulldog players who have come through this old building is the author Pat Conroy. In one of Conroy's more recent works, My Losing Season, Conroy talks about the challenges of playing basketball at the Citadel. As the title of his book indicates, Conroy's Bulldogs lost far more games than they won his senior season. The opponent Conroy was least fond of was the Clemson Tigers of the ACC. Conroy described the Tiger players as "mean and nasty" people, tough guys who were just too physically strong for the weaker Bulldogs to handle. The Citadel is a small military college of just over 2,000 students, while Clemson is a major agricultural and engineering school that prides itself on its athletics. Such a game would not be a fair matchup, and Conroy disliked having to endure such defeats that we see so often today in the form of guarantee games.
Growing up in South Carolina, I tried to root for all college teams in the state. But I quickly discovered the problems with Clemson. Like all too many schools above the red line, many Clemson fans are bandwagon fans that have no real connection to the school. Somehow through its statewide agricultural programs, the Tigers have developed a statewide following, primarily in the rural areas of South Carolina. Most of the Clemson fans in my school were the kind of kids I did not like. They were football first, and mean-spirited redneck types, the kind of people Conroy found to dislike when playing Clemson. Ever since I was 10 years old, I have always rooted against Clemson whether they were playing their rival from the SEC South Carolina, a conference opponent in the ACC, or below the red line against teams like the Citadel. Clemson's fanbase is in large part the kind of people outsiders think of when they mak fun of South Carolinians as a whole.
That is not to say of course that the Citadel does not have mean and nasty people of its own. Going back historically, it was Citadel cadets who started the Civil War by firing on Fort Sumter in nearby Charleston Harbor. Much of the school's alumni and cadets alike were forceful against the idea of making the school co-ed in the 1990s. Bumper stickers with the slogan "Save the Males" were common in South Carolina at the time, and the school's first female cadet was harassed to the point of leaving the school. Conroy himself has had to deal abuse from the Citadel community. For many years Conroy would have to deal with verbal harassment every time he visited Charleston due to his book the Lords of Discipline, a novel that took a critical look at the culture in military schools that was based on his experiences at the Citadel.
But even at a staunchly conservative Southern military school such as the Citadel, things begin to change over time. Female cadets now make up about 10 percent of the population. Conroy's cousin Ed, who was harassed over his relative by student officers when he played for the Citadel in the 1980s, led the Bulldogs to some of their most successful seasons from 2006 to 2010 before jumping the Red Line to go to Tulane. Pat Conroy has been more accepted as a notable Citadel graduate and gave pep talks to his cousin's teams and has sat courtside.
And once again the Bulldogs would have to take on the mean and nasty boys from Clemson. But rather than traveling across the state for a guarantee game, the Bulldogs would host the Tigers at McAlister Field House. The night before, Elon defeated South Carolina at home and Coastal Carolina hosted and defeated LSU. Playing a mid-major on the road is risky for some power conference schools, for whom a guarantee game is a safer bet. Could the Citadel take advantage of Clemson?
Outside McAlister Field House on a Wednesday night, excitement was mounting on campus. Cadets were outside directing traffic throughout the campus, which like much of the historic city of Charleston was designed before parking was even a thought. As football practice let out on the practice field, the eager players ran over to McAlister chanting "Clemson sucks!" as they rushed in to join their fellow cadets.
Inside, the bleachers behind the benches and scorer's table were filled with orange. Much of Clemson's fans did not have to travel far, even though their school is in an obscure corner in the state that is hard to reach from the coastal areas. Clemson has fans all over the state, something most mid-majors do not have. The cadets were given swimming pool toys to wave as distractions at the Clemson's players shooting free throws, which may have been futile since behind the actual basket is the tunnel to the locker room at both ends of the court.
Once the game started, it was clear that the Citadel was not going to get a RLU. The mean and nasty boys from Clemson were much bigger than those from the military school, and the Bulldogs could not shoot well enough to make up for that. Early on the Citadel struggled to score and Clemson gradually pulled out to an 18 point lead at halftime. The Tigers led by as much as 33 before former Wright State and UNC Wilmington coach Brad Brownell called of his Tigers, as the Dogs had been beaten. Traffic was not too bad getting out, as much of the Citadel faithful and bandwagon Clemson fans who didn't want to see the end filed out before the buzzer sounded and the Tigers had won 73-50. It would have been a wonderful occasion for the cadets to rush the court as we have seen with upsets recently, but it was not to be tonight. Mean and nasty tends to overcome too much of the good guys our side of the Red Line.
CLEMSON 2-0 (0-0) -- T. Smith 5-7 0-1 11; A. Young 3-6 1-2 8; T. Sapp 3-6 0-0 7; M. Jennings 4-8 2-2 10; B. Narcisse 1-2 0-0 2; R. Hall 1-3 5-8 7; D. Booker 6-9 1-4 14; C. Baciu 4-10 1-1 9; B. Sullivan 1-2 0-2 2; K. McDaniels 0-0 1-2 1; D. Coleman 1-1 0-0 2; C. Fields 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-54 11-22 73. THE CITADEL 1-2 (0-0) -- M. Groselle 7-13 2-6 16; B. Holston 3-9 1-2 8; C. Morabbi 3-7 0-0 8; D. Wright 2-13 2-2 7; B. Smith 1-6 0-0 2; M. Harris III 0-0 1-2 1; C. Bray 0-4 0-0 0; A. Moore 0-4 0-0 0; L. Miller 1-4 0-0 3; P. Horgan 2-3 1-1 5; J. Robertson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-63 7-13 50.
Three-point goals: CLEM 4-9 (T. Smith 1-1; A. Young 1-3; D. Booker 1-2; M. Jennings 0-1; T. Sapp 1-2), CITA 5-19 (C. Morabbi 2-4; B. Holston 1-2; B. Smith 0-2; D. Wright 1-4; C. Bray 0-4; L. Miller 1-2; A. Moore 0-1); Rebounds: CLEM 38 (T. Smith 7), CITA 32 (M. Groselle 11); Assists: CLEM 14 (T. Smith 4), CITA 7 (D. Wright 2); Total Fouls -- CLEM 19, CITA 18; Fouled Out: CLEM-None; CITA-None.