The College of Charleston and Wofford have had a big rivalry for the last 13 years that they have been in the Southern Conference. The teams have fought hard in previous years. CofC won both regular season meetings last year, but lost in the tournament final to Wofford. Wofford blew out CofC in the first game Jan. 5 in Spartanburg.
But this is a much different season now. Bobby Cremins shocked the sports world in the Lowcountry when the college on Friday announced that Cremins would be stepping down from his job as head coach for the rest of the season for non-life threatening health problems.
He had grown noticeably weaker in the past few games, often unable to stand during time outs. His assistants would often direct the plays. Assistant coach Mark Byington was appointed as the interim coach. He is a 1998 graduate of UNC-Wilmington, a two-year starter at guard for the Seahawks and a four-year letterman.
The team he inherited had a very tough task in front of them. Charleston had just lost three in row at Davidson and Georgia Southern and a surprising home loss to Furman. Now, with just about an hour of practice time, they had to face one of the best teams in the league, Wofford. It was a very emotional game for the fans. It was already planned as the Cougars "White-Out" game.
This is a tradition that the team has had for several seasons. This started the first year under Cremins, when CofC won on a three at the buzzer that was the top play on SportsCenter's Top 10 that night. Wofford, being the two-time defending champions of the SoCon, brought a huge amount of fans. The only team that brought as many fans this year so far was Tennessee.
Wofford had the entire section behind their bench, and a section behind the student section in the upper deck. Wofford probably had close to 500 fans there.
They still have several pieces from those two tournament teams, including Kevin Giltner and Brad Loesing, two big pieces on last year's NCAA team. Drew Crowell, who has grown into a star after backing up Noah Dahlman. He is from West Ashley High School, one of the preeminent basketball powers in the Lowcountry year after year.
He had a big cheering section supporting him and the other team member from the area, Joseph Tecklenburg.
It was an emotional scene at the beginning. With the game airing on regional TV (SoCon television on PBS subchannels and a couple other stations), several people (including myself) were wearing Bobby Cremins wigs to commemorate him. The crowd was still 1,000 short of a sellout (5,100) though, partly because of the Cougars' woes lately.
Not only were they without Anthony Stitt, who broke his hand in the UNCG game, but Adejhi Baru, their top recruit from the Ivory Coast, aggravated his ankle injury suffered during the Davidson game and was out for this game.
The game went off to a flying start, with a Nori Johnson three that gave the Cougs an early 3-0 lead. Wofford soon cut the lead to 3-2, and that was the last lead that CofC had for the rest of the game. Wofford quickly brought the lead out to a dozen, and CofC was left playing catch-up most of the rest of the way. They had some good defensive efforts, but most of their attempts to try and stop the Terriers proved futile.
Wofford coach Mike Young still had his normal antics, coaching almost on the court compared to most coaches. Because of the suits and sneakers promotion, he worked sans tie on Saturday, and for the second half took off his suit coat. It was a weird sight to see for a coach who is usually one of the best-dressed in college basketball.
The Wofford lead was nine at the break, 28-19. The half-court shot at the half was missed by the fan, and the dancers performed their normal routine.
CofC fought hard in the second half. They kept cutting into the Wofford lead, cutting it to just five with 4:37 left at 51-46. Wofford, however, answered every Cougar run with a basket of their own, and soon brought the game out of reach, bringing it back to 10 points with less than 30 seconds to go, eventually leading to the nine-point Wofford win.
The students were distraught, because most of them have never experienced a rough stretch like this. This is the first time that the Cougs have lost four in a row since 2007-2008, which was their last losing season.
CofC suffered another tough loss at home, as the team is going through a major slide. The Cougars fell into fifth place in the SoCon South Division after this loss, when just two and a half weeks ago (before they lost to UNCG) they were just one game back of Davidson for the lead in the South Division. CofC was 10-2 at Christmas; now they are 12-9.
Every team has gone through one of these stretches; now we have to see what these teams are made of. Wofford has two home games against Western Carolina and Samford, then goes to Davidson. CofC has a three-game road trip at Samford, Elon and Appalachian State.
WOFFORD 68, at CHARLESTON 59 01/28/2012
WOFFORD 14-8 (7-3) -- F. Dobbs 5-14 9-11 23; B. Loesing 7-11 2-3 18; K. Giltner 4-13 2-2 13; L. Skinner 2-6 2-4 6; D. Crowell 4-5 0-0 8; K. Cochran 6-9 2-2 15; A. Smith 4-7 0-0 8; J. Byrd 0-0 0-0 0; D. Rinksalis 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-51 8-11 68. CHARLESTON 12-9 (4-6) -- A. Lawrence 2-7 0-2 6; T. Wiedeman 7-13 4-4 18; A. Wiggins 6-14 0-0 14; M. Sundberg 3-8 0-0 8; N. Johnson 4-8 2-4 13; J. Carlton 0-2 0-0 0; J. Scott 0-3 0-0 0; T. Dixon 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 22-58 6-10 59.
Three-point goals: WOFF 6-16 (K. Giltner 3-8; B. Loesing 2-5; K. Cochran 1-3), COFC 9-28 (A. Wiggins 2-6; M. Sundberg 2-7; A. Lawrence 2-6; N. Johnson 3-7; J. Scott 0-1; T. Dixon 0-1); Rebounds: WOFF 28 (K. Cochran 7), COFC 26 (T. Wiedeman 10); Assists: WOFF 16 (B. Loesing 8), COFC 14 (A. Lawrence 8); Total Fouls -- WOFF 12, COFC 14; Fouled Out: WOFF-None; COFC-None.