As I was driving down to North Charleston on Thursday I figured I was in the clear and it was time for the real mid-major basketball experience to begin. Holiday break was finally over with and while Charleston
Southern has the small CSU Field House, at least the students and band would be out and there had to be a great crowd that was going to come out to see the Bucs take on first place Campbell.
I apparently have been out of college way too long as I soon found out that the students weren't back yet from break. I was going to have to sit through two more sparsely attended games since I'd be returning to
Charleston Southern again on Saturday.
With that said, I figured there may have been some hope for a decent crowd since because of the opponent, but I overestimated the support of the local fan base. At tip time I counted 194 fans, much less than 670 that was reported. I think there were some students there, but I couldn't tell as most of the time the handful of scattered college-aged kids just lounged around and talked with their friends or texted while the game was going on.
If you plan on going to a Charleston Southern game, I'd suggest you eat beforehand. I wanted to get something right before the game, and while there is nothing over $2 at the concessions, they have the selection of a 7-11 with chips, drinks and candy. Actually, the selection at a 7-11 would be an improvement since they at least have hot dogs, while even those were missing at CSU. I opted for a $1 bag of popcorn that the lady at the concessions assured me was good. If by the term "good" she meant "burnt" then I guess she hit the nail on the head. My friend Justin has told me before that you should get a minor NCAA violation for not even being able to get popcorn right, and I tend to agree.
The gaffes continued right up to tip-off as, since there was no band to play the national anthem, they had to play a recording through the PA system. The Star-Spangled Banner sounded a bit different as they kept
accidentally playing generic hip hop music. I could see across to the media table as a guy with a CSU marketing shirt was hurriedly trying to find the right file on a laptop. While we were all standing there waiting I heard the girl in front of me say "only at Charleston Southern University." After what probably seemed like forever for the poor guy looking for the right song, he finally got the right music selected.
While many things about Charleston Southern may scream of low budget and rinky dink operation, the basketball team this year doesn't fit that mold. While in the past the Buccaneers have usually had very erratic seasons, they have started out this year pretty solid and have a fairly decent offense. CSU was coming off a loss to High Point three nights previous, in which they were down big only to see a rally fall short in the end, but still sported a 3-1 conference record.
The Campbell Camels were coming into the game after a big win in overtime against Coastal Carolina. They were undefeated so far in Big South play and tied atop the standings with UNC-Asheville. I was interested to see how Campbell would handle its first league road test since they were on a six-game road losing streak.
The game started out very quickly as both teams looked to push the pace. CSU got up to a lead 16-8 but Campbell didn't let them run away with it that easily as they chipped away at the lead even though they were taking a ton of early-in-the-shot-clock threes that weren't falling. However, the Camels were doing a good job of getting offensive boards and either getting the second chance points or getting fouled. CSU was keeping pace, though, with a barrage of threes as half their 1st half shots were from beyond the arc.
Towards the end of the first half with about a minute to go I made the mistake of looking at my notes for a second only to miss a monster dunk from Campbell's Darren White that even got plenty of "oohhhhh's" from the crowd. I should have known better than to look away when White has the ball in his hands as he is a big time leaper. CSU has a great athlete of their own with 6'4" senior Kelvin Martin who is asked to do a little bit of everything ranging from bringing the ball up in transition to playing a little bit of center. After White's dunk, Martin came down, drove the lane and proceeded to dunk over two Camel defenders. Luckily I was paying attention this time around, as were the few hundred in attendance who got a good first half show and a CSU lead 43-39.
The second half started much like the beginning of the game as Charleston Southern had some hot shooting and gained a 10-point lead before Campbell could get a timeout. CU was able to cut the lead down until Martin took over the game. He did the same thing the previous time I saw him against Erskine, but that was Erskine and this was a quality Campbell team. That didn't matter as Martin's energy really sparked on the Buccaneers. One stretch in particular stood out during a 25-second span where he made a nice alley-oop layup, followed by an emphatic swat on the other end which led to a transition dunk that got everyone on their feet. That point of the game really seemed to sink the Camels as the Bucs turned the rest of the game into showtime with uncontested threes, layups, and dunks.
I was really surprised with the result and was expecting a much tighter game, but CSU is a very explosive team. They all seem to rally around their senior leader, Martin, who really rubs off when he turns things up a
notch. They made Campbell's defense look pretty bad for most of the game. It is a shame that such an exciting team doesn't get support from both the community and the school itself. I know they have been a mediocre to poor team for years, but if they play like they did in this game the rest of the year they will be one of the favorites in the Big South.