Charleston is South Carolina's second-largest city, with 120,000 in the city and 650,000 in the metro area. It also has three Division I schools, all of whom are mid-majors. The most established of these is the Citadel, a military school with a rich history. But the Bulldogs face difficulties recruiting to a military school, and a small enrollment and a focus on football and baseball weakens Citadel basketball.
Charleston also is home to the state's oldest school in College of Charleston. C of C, for its first 200 years, was a very small school in Charleston's Historic District until it underwent immense expansion and became a state university in 1970. The Cougars rose to prominence and won the 1983 NAIA title, and would soon enough join Division I and become one of the top mid-majors in the Southeast in the 1990s. Without football, C of C basketball flourishes and regularly fills its modern, 5,100-seat arena built three years ago.
The other mid-major in the area is Charleston Southern, which until the early 1990s was called Baptist College. Despite its name, CSU is on the northern edge of North Charleston, nearly 20 miles away from downtown Charleston. The Bucs helped create the Big South and did very well back when the conference had no automatic bid and was a 1980s version of the Great West. But very poor facilities (the smallest arena in Division I with less than 900 seats) and the establishment of football in the early 1990s has left Charleston Southern basketball behind.
Defining what a rivalry is is tough, especially among mid-majors. I found this to be evident when looking at who was labeled in ESPN's College Basketball Encyclopedia as the biggest rival of each school. Traditionally, Elon and High Point were big rivals, but with Elon not scheduling HPU often since leaving for the SoCon, most Panther fans would consider Winthrop our biggest rival. Winthrop fans, in return, cannot see a school they have historically dominated as a rival, and see Coastal Carolina as their traditional rival. Coastal fans insist that since the Eagles do not have football that their rival is Charleston Southern, whom Coastal has had big games with. Charleston Southern fans see the local team, College of Charleston, as their main rival, and the schools play every year despite differences in conference affiliation. C of C fans see CSU as being beneath them in status, and thus their true local rival is the Citadel. Citadel fans feel that a newer SoCon member without football cannot possibly be their rival, and thus their rival throughout the years in the SoCon has been Furman, which also has a local conference rivalry with Wofford. Defining a rivalry becomes as tiring an argument at times as the argument of who is a mid-major and who isn't.
But despite all of this, all three mid-majors in Charleston play each other annually, with the Citadel and College of Charleston meeting as conference opponents. All three schools have distinctly different fanbases. The Citadel gets its fans from Charleston's military community, as well as from of the Old South establishment in the Charleston area. The New South and liberal arts-focused Charlestonians provide C of C with their base support, and as South Carolina's third flagship university attracts many students who want to study in the state's most historic location. Charleston Southern has struggled to find a fanbase, and has tried to reach out to the local religious communities through the school's ties with the Southern Baptist Convention. CSU could better capitalize on being the Division I school for the northern suburbs of Charleston, but has yet to really do so.
Tonight the Cougars of College of Charleston would host the Buccaneers of Charleston Southern. The Cougars and Bucs never meet on the CSU campus, and when Charleston Southern hosts the game, it is held at the spacious North Charleston Coliseum. C of C has also hosted the game before at the Coliseum, but a minor league hockey game put tonight's game at the Cougars' regular home in downtown Charleston. For basketball purposes, College of Charleston is the king of the three schools in Charleston. The Cougars average over twice the fan support of the Citadel and over four times what CSU gets in their tiny gym. Billboards and advertisements in the area often feature the Cougars but never the Buccaneers of the Big South. As a result, C of C fans did not have to worry about an invasion from the other team's fans like they faced when Tennessee came to town Wednesday, even though the opponent was a fellow mid-major less than a 30-minute drive away.
As the state's third-largest school (and the largest without football), the Cougars are successful within the Southern Conference. Charleston Southern has not been successful in the Big South, and with the SoCon having a very slight edge on the Big South recently this looked to be an easy game for the Cougars, coming in having won their last five games against the Bucs. But CSU has been competitive lately, and on Wednesday crushed the Cougars' local SoCon rival in the Citadel. I got a tweet from former C of C radio announcer Tony Ciuffo who said he expected the underrated Bucs to win the game by eight. I expected the Cougars to be fired up after beating Tennessee to win the game easily, but that would not be the case.
Very few students showed up, and the student section was less than half full, even with some community groups filling out along the edges. TD Arena was over half full overall for the local Saturday night affair, but the atmosphere was nowhere near the level it was for the Tennessee game Wednesday. Both schools had something in common in losing their biggest playmaker from last year, Jamarco Warren from Charleston Southern and Andrew Goudelock from Charleston Southern. Throughout most of the game, C of C held the lead, but the tenacious Bucs would never go away. Steals and points off turnovers would keep CSU in the game and eventually the Bucs would tie the game with 40 seconds left. But C of C would get a putback dunk to take a two-point lead into the final seconds, and despite calling a timeout, CSU could not respond. The Bucs did not have the magic that Jamarco Warren brought to finish the game, and the CSU backcourt could only manage a weak shot as time expired. The Cougars would hold on for their sixth straight win against Charleston Southern, and the Charleston order was left intact.
Having three Division I teams locally is something Charleston should be proud of, which sets it apart from other cities in South Carolina. All three colleges are very different and serve very different groups of students. Each of the three basketball teams need to be appreciated , and local rivalries such as tonight should be highlighted as one of Charleston's many traditions.
at CHARLESTON 70, CHARLESTON SOUTHERN 68 12/17/2011
CHARLESTON SOUTHERN 6-4 (2-0) -- K. Martin 8-16 0-2 16; A. Harper 7-15 0-2 18; S. Nimley 4-16 1-2 10; S. Strickland 0-8 0-0 0; M. Muo 5-11 0-0 15; C. Bowen 3-6 0-0 6; P. Gombwer 0-1 1-2 1; G. Dorleus 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 28-75 2-8 68. CHARLESTON 9-1 (2-0) -- A. Lawrence 6-11 1-2 14; A. Wiggins 7-14 1-2 18; A. Stitt 4-7 5-8 16; A. Baru 3-5 2-8 8; T. Wiedeman 1-4 2-2 4; M. Sundberg 1-3 1-2 4; J. Scott 2-4 1-2 6; J. Carlton 0-1 0-0 0; N. Johnson 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 24-50 13-26 70.
Three-point goals: CHSO 10-25 (M. Muo 5-11; S. Strickland 0-1; A. Harper 4-8; S. Nimley 1-5), COFC 9-20 (A. Wiggins 3-6; M. Sundberg 1-1; A. Lawrence 1-5; N. Johnson 0-1; J. Scott 1-2; A. Stitt 3-5); Rebounds: CHSO 35 (P. Gombwer 10), COFC 42 (A. Wiggins 11); Assists: CHSO 13 (S. Nimley 6), COFC 13 (A. Lawrence 5); Total Fouls -- CHSO 22, COFC 13; Fouled Out: CHSO-M. Muo; COFC-None.