After seeing a stellar game in Wilmington in the afternoon I jumped in the car and started my journey towards my second stop of the day at Campbell in Buies Creek, NC. The nearly two-hour drive went by as quickly as I could hope for as I spent most of the time exploring the AM dial. It's interesting what cities you can pick up while driving through the Carolinas. I've already found local sports stations for Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Cleveland, New York, D.C., and Detroit. Just being able to listen to any sporting event makes the drive seem quicker for me, even if it is a St. Louis Blues game that keeps cutting out. Someday I might even pony up the extra cash and get XM, but that will come when I get a newer car.
This was my second visit to Campbell this season and thankfully I didn't drive past the place like I did the first time around. It wouldn't have mattered much though as I had arrived plenty of time before the game. Luckily for me, though, I didn't have to sit around and wait nearly two hours for tipoff. The Lady Camels were hosting UNC-Asheville, so I got to take in the second half of the women's game that Campbell won fairly easily.
I had actually bought my ticket ahead of time when I first came because I didn't know if there would be any sort of sellout since I didn't know how big the community interest was in the Camels. It turns out that even though the Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina were coming in undefeated in the Big South for an early first-place game against Campbell, the arena was less than half filled with plenty of tickets still available.
This was going to be my last game during holiday break and it couldn't come soon enough. It was the 13th game I'd seen over the break and I am looking forward to getting the full experience of student sections, full bands and cheer squads, and bigger overall crowds. I think I have yet to experience "Our Game" in its peak form.
Campbell was returning from a five-game road trip where they had dropped every contest and hadn't actually won since I was last in attendance when they drubbed Methodist. While they were close against the likes of NC State, there was also a head scratcher of a loss against Houston Baptist in there as well. I'm sure the Camels were glad to be back home and back into conference play.
CCU will have a size and athleticism advantage this year in the Big South against most teams, but not against Campbell who has a bruising big man in Eric Griffin and an elite scorer and athlete in Darren White.
The game tipped and the Chants ran out to an early advantage of 10-2 and that would be the highlight of the first half for them. For the next 15 minutes the Camels dominated using a defensive scheme that Coastal had major problems with. The Camels were pressing and trapping any guard along the sidelines, forcing a bunch of mistakes. CCU wasn't passing out of it well and weren't able to find the open man. On the other side of the ball, Griffin and White weren't having a strong start either as the Coastal D was keying up on them, but Campbell's star freshman point guard Trey Freeman along with Lorne Merthie hit some shots to vault the Camels to a 33-23 lead.
Leading into the second half I had some question as to whether CCU would be able to get back into things since they had such a tough time solving Campbell's D, but for some reason Campbell switched to a more traditional 2-3 zone and didn't press as much. This allowed Anthony Raffa to hit back to back corner threes to cut a double-digit lead down to four.
Up until this point in the game I was trying to watch it as objectively as possible. I rarely ever want to become "that guy" that is a little too obnoxious when he's at another team's venue. I was quietly cheering on the Chants for every good play, which weren't too many at that point, but hadn't voiced myself at all. I could sense I was getting more and more nervous as the game wound down. Whenever CCU took the lead, Campbell would take it right back. It was as much the tight battle down the stretch I had seen two nights earlier with Coastal and High Point, but this one had me more wound up as I thought of Campbell as the better team.
The home crowd seemed to be nervous also, as their Camels looked to have the game in the bag, but were in a dogfight, although some of those jitters went away when White drove the lane and threw down a thunderous tomahawk dunk. This lit a fire under the home crowd and the Camels had a two-point lead with under a minute to go. Coastal had a chance to tie, but were forced into another turnover (they had 20 on the night). The crowd rose to their feet as the Camels tried to milk as much clock as they could, but Anthony Raffa gambled for a steal and got it leading to a lay in to tie the game with 11 seconds. Campbell elected not to call timeout and White went for a jumper to win the game, but Kierre Greenwood blocked his shot, sending the game into OT.
During this last stretch I had lost my mind and started screaming at the top of my lungs, especially during the Raffa steal and layup. After the horn sounded after the Greenwood block, I could feel the adrenaline rushing through me. I felt like I could have lifted a car at that point after such a furious finish. The people sitting around me were a bit surprised that I had gotten so loud after being so quiet the whole game and gave me a few playful jabs.
After things settled down a bit OT started and Campbell seemed to really settle in as well. They started playing suffocating defense and forced the Chants into tough shots late in the shot clock. White ended up hammering down another huge slam on the other end while Freeman pushed the lead to five after a nice scooping lay-in. CCU had one last chance to tie the game with less than 40 seconds to go, but White returned the favor by blocking Raffa's three-pointer. Griffin sank a few free throws and Campbell got the big overtime victory.
It was quite the emotional game for both teams and the fans. It may be early in the season, but they went hard the full 45 minutes. I let my emotions get the best of me towards the end, but I was glad to see such a good game, and my first OT game at that on the season.
at CAMPBELL 70, COASTAL CAROLINA 65 01/02/2012
COASTAL CAROLINA 10-4 (3-1) -- R. Mansell 4-12 2-4 12; K. Greenwood 4-4 4-4 13; D. Nieman 0-4 0-0 0; A. Raffa 6-17 4-5 18; S. McLaurin 1-3 2-4 4; C. Gradnigo 6-15 4-5 16; J. Pack 5-7 1-2 11; W. Gillis 0-1 0-0 0; D. Moore 1-2 0-0 3; J. Griffin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-53 15-20 65. CAMPBELL 9-6 (3-0) -- D. White 4-12 2-3 10; T. Freeman 9-15 2-5 20; E. Griffin 4-10 5-7 13; M. Harris 1-4 4-4 6; L. Merthie 3-8 1-2 10; R. Ferguson 2-5 0-0 4; A. Ryan 1-4 0-0 3; A. Horton 2-3 0-0 4; A. Celestin 0-0 0-0 0; A. Kalpic 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 26-62 14-21 70.
Three-point goals: CCU 4-17 (C. Gradnigo 0-4; A. Raffa 2-8; D. Moore 1-2; D. Nieman 0-2; K. Greenwood 1-1), CAMP 4-18 (L. Merthie 3-8; D. White 0-3; E. Griffin 0-2; A. Horton 0-1; A. Ryan 1-4); Rebounds: CCU 39 (D. Nieman 9), CAMP 30 (E. Griffin 7); Assists: CCU 16 (D. Nieman 6), CAMP 16 (T. Freeman 5); Total Fouls -- CCU 19, CAMP 19; Fouled Out: CCU-None; CAMP-None.