I also had no idea what to expect about the possible crowd to the game after the very small showing in CSU's last game against Campbell. I knew classes still weren't in session, but the new semester would be on Monday, so I was hoping for a bit better atmosphere. I knew there would be at least one more person joining me at the CSU Field House as I convinced my friend Justin, who has CCU season tickets with me, to make the road trip. Since this was a weekend game, we decided to pregame at Hatchell's in Mt. Pleasant, which is on the outskirts of Charleston and provided a good food and drink option if you don't want to head downtown.
When we arrived at CSU well before tip-off, we saw a good amount of CCU fans waiting in front of the ticket window. I felt a bit bad for the guy at the will-call window that had to deal with a bunch of Coastal fans that were being total a-holes. The majority of the people in the line were on the player pass list that everyone had to sign for to get in, and while that didn't seem like too much of an inconvenience, a few people couldn't refrain from making snide remarks to a guy just trying to do his job. When it came our turn to retrieve our tickets there wasn't much of a problem, and we made our way into the Buc Dome.
We had gotten there a bit early, so it looked like it may be a repeat of the sparse attendance that I had experienced a few days earlier. It wasn't until a few minutes before gametime that the field house started to fill up. A few CSU students started to file in, and the makings of a small student cheering section started to form. They were a few rows in front of us and they weren't really obstructing our view until a few taller kids showed up later to block one side of the court. I wouldn't mind standing the whole game, but I know there were a few older people behind us and we didn't want to be a nuisance to them, so we decided move over a little bit. Things worked out well, as the two older CCU fans behind us had some hilariously biased comments throughout the game while the CSU fans in front of us wholeheartedly disagreed.
I knew going into the game that it was most likely going to be a close battle. CSU has been an average team for a long time in the Big South, but since I've been watching CCU in their recent successful years, the games between the two have been close. The past two years CCU has won all four games, but they have all been battles with Coastal winning last year's games by a total of six points.
The game started out fairly evenly, as defense was king until the under-12 timeout as CSU led by one. After that, the Bucs clamped down even more and forced a ton of CCU turnovers and went on a 11-0 run for a 20-11 lead. After watching so many CCU games, it isn't hard to see their deficiencies, as they have way too many turnovers which enable teams get big runs on them, but when they settle down the team can respond, and they did on this night as they closed out the half on 14-6 run to cut the lead to one.
At the half, I was able to catch up with a few fellow 800GPers as Ian McCormick was only sitting a few rows seats away from me taking in the game. I was also able to spot Ross Lancaster in his green North Texas shirt and talk with him a bit before bringing him over toward me and Ian for the second half. I was glad I was able to meet up with both during the game, as they are great representatives for the 800GP. Ian has been going to tons of sporting events throughout the years, and I'll look forward to all the games we cross paths, as you can tell how much he enjoys going to all of these games, as we all do. Ross surprisingly has our only Texas review despite the numerous mid-major schools within the state, and I think it's awesome that he thought to contribute to the 800GP while visiting the Charleston area.
With the score 26-25 at the half I was thinking more of the same for the rest of the game since these teams always played rugged defense games, but both teams came hot. The shots that weren't falling in the first were going down as the tempo picked up, as did the volume of the crowd that had slowly built to capacity after the half.
Being a CCU fan, my rooting interest was no secret as the game started to wind down. Neither team was gaining a massive advantage until the Chants had seemed to establish control late in the game with Chris Gradnigo and Anthony Rafa making some tough shots and leading Coastal to a six-point lead with a minute and a half to go. CSU's Mathiang Muo made sure the Bucs wouldn't go away easily with several layups, and after CCU's Kierre Greenwood only made one of two free throws, CSU had the ball with a chance to tie only down three.
There were 10 seconds left and my nerves were at a high. I contemplated with Justin what the play CSU might run, as Muo had been the guy that got them back into the game, while Jeremy Sexton and Saah Nimley were both good shooters. There was also Kelvin Martin, who was the senior leader who had spurred on wins in the two previous CSU games I had seen, but was relatively quiet so far. CSU had their offensive set, but Coastal called timeout after scouting it. After the timeout, Martin was subbed out for freshman gunner Arlon Haper. I found that a bit strange, but it worked out in the end as Harper ended up with the ball and hit a contested three to force overtime for the Buccaneers.
It was a huge shot for CSU going into overtime, and the Bucs celebrated like they had won the game. Meanwhile, my nerves were shot and my hands were shaking, as I was in store for another close Big South game. I calmed down a bit as CCU was able to score first, but Harper hit another huge three to get the lead. CSU had the lead up to three, but Raffa was able to swipe Harper and drive for a layup to cut the lead down to one. A few misses on each end led to CCU having the ball with 30 seconds to go and about 10 seconds left on the shot clock. Coastal didn't have much time to find a shot, but Greenwood ended up hitting a clutch three-pointer for the lead. One defensive stand later by CCU, and Coastal was able to escape North Charleston in yet another close game against CSU.
The Big South is shaping up to be an exciting race this year as CCU, CSU, Campbell and High Point are all teams that I've seen that all seem to be on the same level. That's not counting defending champs Asheville and perennial contenders Winthrop, who will have plenty to say in the conference. Living in South Carolina will give me plenty of opportunities to see all these teams, and I'll be looking forward to adding to all the great games I've seen so far.
COASTAL CAROLINA 80, at CHARLESTON SOUTHERN 77 01/07/2012
COASTAL CAROLINA 11-4 (4-1) -- D. Nieman 3-5 0-1 8; K. Greenwood 6-14 3-5 16; S. McLaurin 6-11 0-0 12; A. Raffa 8-13 5-6 23; C. Gradnigo 8-13 0-0 17; J. Pack 1-3 2-2 4; D. Moore 0-0 0-0 0; W. Gillis 0-0 0-0 0; J. Griffin 0-1 0-0 0; C. Ashford 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 32-60 10-14 80. CHARLESTON SOUTHERN 10-6 (4-2) -- K. Martin 3-10 1-2 7; A. Harper 7-11 3-4 22; S. Nimley 2-12 2-2 6; M. Muo 8-14 2-2 20; P. Gombwer 4-6 1-3 9; J. Sexton 2-4 3-5 7; S. Strickland 0-8 0-0 0; C. Bowen 1-3 2-3 4; C. Grier 1-1 0-1 2. Totals 28-69 14-22 77.
Three-point goals: CCU 6-12 (C. Gradnigo 1-3; A. Raffa 2-3; D. Nieman 2-4; J. Griffin 0-1; K. Greenwood 1-1), CHSO 7-24 (J. Sexton 0-1; M. Muo 2-7; S. Strickland 0-2; A. Harper 5-8; S. Nimley 0-6); Rebounds: CCU 36 (S. McLaurin 12), CHSO 35 (K. Martin 9); Assists: CCU 8 (K. Greenwood 2), CHSO 8 (A. Harper 3); Total Fouls -- CCU 18, CHSO 18; Fouled Out: CCU-None; CHSO-None.