In November, I decided to take a Friday to Monday trip to Charleston to surprise my grandmother for her 80th birthday. After finalizing all the necessary travel arrangements, I knew that I had to make plans to see a game when in town. Usually when I visit Charleston, it's during the summer or spring, well after the area's three members of Hoops Nation have concluded their seasons. When looking at the schedules for January 7, The Citadel had a home game against Samford and Charleston Southern was hosting Coastal Carolina. I had been to games at McAlister Field House, but never CSU Fieldhouse. My desire to see a new venue made the decision for me.
Not only had I never been to CSU Fieldhouse, but I had never stepped foot on the Charleston Southern campus. I'm not quite sure how this happened, considering Charleston is my childhood home and that I grew up with mid-major hoops in Charleston. My family went to church with former Buccaneers coach Gary Edwards and his family when CSU won the Big South Tournament (but not an NCAA bid, due to changing conference membership) on a buzzer-beater in 1995, but the city's team was John Kresse's College of Charleston Cougars. I am no exception with my Lowcountry rooting interests to this day. On Saturday, I made sure to watch the Cougars' game on regional TV against Furman before making my way up I-26 to Charleston Southern.
I miss Charleston a whole lot on days like last Saturday. When I woke up, I opened up the sports page of The Post and Courier to find about 40-50% of the section devoted to college hoops. Most of that percentage focused on action below the Red Line. Had I come into sports consciousness in a market like Dallas/Fort Worth, where I live now, I know that I absolutely would not have love of all Division I college basketball like I do now.
It puzzles some new people that I meet in Dallas that I identify Charleston my hometown, despite living in the North Texas area longer than any other place. I just can't help that. I have immediate and extended family who live in the Lowcountry and points nearby that I visit at the very least once a year. I identify more with South Carolinian and Lowcountry culture and things more. Beef brisket is not barbecue to me. Pulled pork or ribs with a mustard-based sauce is. I love Whataburger and Dr. Pepper like any other Texas resident, but nothing beats a plate of shrimp and grits, an oyster roast with family and friends, or a big pot of frogmore stew. I don't know how many times in Texas I've wanted to just relax at a nearby beach during a weekend. I even go out of my way to defend Hootie and the Blowfish.
Before I left Dallas for Charleston, I officially put Saturday's game on the "I Will" list. To my surprise, there were three other names who pledged to write recaps for the game. One decided to attend the aforementioned Citadel game, but the other two were the 800GP's two most prolific attendees, Ian McCormick and Matt Cayuela. I knew that Saturday's important Big South game would give us a chance to have an 800GP meet-up. To stand out so they could notice me, and represent my current school several states away, I decided to wear North Texas Mean Green to the game.
Upon arriving at CSU Fieldhouse, Division I's smallest venue with a capacity of under 900 for basketball, I decided to pay the two extra dollars to grab a reserved seat on the scorer's table side of the gym. When I found my assigned seat with about 15 minutes to go before tip-off, I saw an especially rotund man seated adjacent to my seat. This would be no problem, I thought, as I could just find a seat elsewhere in the reserved area. At this time, the area around my seat was maybe a third full. However, the reserved section rapidly filled in, as did the rest of the gym. I went back to Section A, Row C, Seat 9 by tip-off.
Forced to watch the beginning of the game with half of my average-sized, but broad-shouldered frame outside of the seat, I looked for non-assigned seating areas with empty seats. Besides, my role as a neutral fan probably wasn't going to work just feet from the Charleston Southern bench. By the under-eight media timeout, I had picked a spot behind one of the baskets. On my way there, I decided to stop at the concession stand to see if what Matt said about the popcorn at CSU Fieldhouse in his Thursday recap was true. I can corroborate his testimony.
Once I was at my new seat, the game picked up slightly after a sluggish start for both teams. CSU gained the upper hand as the half progressed, but Coastal battled back to make it just a one-point lead for the Bucs at the break in what was then a deliberately paced game. At the half, I chatted about the general state of the Big South in 2012 with a couple of late-arriving Coastal fans. Towards the end of the break, Matt spotted me and we went back to where him, his friend and Ian were sitting, around the top row of the plastic bleachers opposite the scorer's table. I believe our three-man 800GP section at CSU Fieldhouse marked a first for the project.
The second half was one of the best 20-minute periods of basketball I've seen this season on TV or in person, regardless of level. It was up-tempo, featuring many shifts in momentum and some big-time execution. In other words, it was the perfect game for a neutral visiting from a thousand miles away.
In the game's final minute, it appeared as if the Chanticleers would walk away winners, but a turnover, an offensive foul and a missed free throw on Coastal's last three regulation possessions, gave the Bucs a chance to come back. Down by three on a possession starting with 8.1 seconds left, Arlon Harper nailed a tough, highly contested superhoop with just four ticks remaining. The game went to overtime, where it briefly appeared as if Charleston Southern had both the legs and the momentum to run past the Chanticleers.
Up three in overtime, CSU began to play more deliberately than the quicker attack that had been working in the extra frame. Coastal's Anthony Raffa (23 points) came up with a big steal and layup to cut the margin to one. After Charleston Southern failed to score on another possession, Coastal had the ball with under a minute to play. With the shot clock winding down, Kierre Greenwood nailed a superhoop even more clutch than Harper's minutes prior. From there, the Bucs came up empty on each of their remaining possessions, including another potential game-tying superhoop to send the game into a second OT.
Before Saturday, I already knew just how dedicated the participants of the 800GP were. But to meet Ian and Matt, two of the most dedicated participants in the project thus far, was an absolute pleasure. Their devotion to the 800GP has motivated me to say "I Will" more often as the season continues.
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.