The College of Charleston and The Citadel have had a very good rivalry ever since they became schools. The College has grown into one of the most important schools in South Carolina in the last few decades, while The Citadel has been one of only two original members of the Southern Conference, along with Furman, being a part of the league since they used peach baskets and had a jump ball after every basket.
The two schools' basketball fortunes, however, have been much different. The Citadel has only won 20 games once in the last 30 years, in 2008-2009 under Ed Conroy. CofC has had several great coaches. John Kresse led the school from their days as a NAIA school, playing mainly schools from South Carolina (including several D-Is now, like Winthrop, Coastal Carolina and Wofford), to becoming one of the preeminent coaches in college basketball in the late 1990s, making three straight NCAAs.
Tom Herrion replaced him in 2002, and he tried to continue the tradition, but after winning the Great Alaska Shootout in his first year (back when it was still prestigious), his teams went down year after year. His reign as coach ended in tatters with a basketball program in a bad arena, bad academics and poor leadership.
Gregg Marshall, who was coach at Winthrop, originally accepted the job, but after a couple of days, changed his mind and went back to Rock Hill, eventually getting a better job at Wichita State, where he is leading a program in the top 25 nationally.
Bobby Cremins was on the beach in Hilton Head, though, and accepted the job as coach. He brought the Cougars back into national respectability, helping to build the new TD Arena and revitalizing the program. If any of you have followed the program, in late January he took a leave of absence because of medical issues.
Mark Byington replaced him, and the assistant coach who has had two tours of duty with the Cougars, one under Coach Herrion and six years under Cremins, was suddenly boosted into the head coaching position. He has done a good job in his first few games as interim coach, winning five of eight games, including victories over SoCon leader Davidson and Kent State.
Chuck Driesell, Lefty's son, replaced Ed Conroy last season, and inherited a senior-laden team. They lost in the first round of the SoCon tournament last year, and had a big rebuilding job. Eight freshmen are on this year's team, and many of them have matured to become leaders.
The Dogs fought hard in the first game, way back on December 1 at TD Arena, even though they lost by 19 (the game was much closer). That seems like a year ago, even though it has been less than three months. The Citadel was on their first winning streak of the season, of two games. They defeated Chattanooga at the Roundhouse last Saturday late, and upset Appalachian State, who was still in the running for a bye, on Wednesday night.
CofC was on their own three-game winning streak, defeating Georgia Southern by five at TD Arena on Thursday night. Both teams were on winning streaks heading into the game, so it looked to be a good one.
The game was given heavy promotion by several local radio stations. One of our three country music stations, Kickin' 92.5, was giving away tickets. Our local sports talk show gave away 10 pairs of tickets. This was the only game televised this year from McAlister Field House (the Clemson game was only on ESPN3).
The problem was that ticket prices are always higher for this game. While for the rest of the season, it's only $10 to go to a Citadel game, they double the prices for the CofC game, charging $20 for adults, and $10 for public and private school students. This holds down the attendance. Since the game was on Saturday afternoon, when a lot of the cadets are on leave, not many cadets showed up.
Usually when these two play, the cadets are basically forced to go, since it is on a weeknight, so it is usually filled to the brim. Here was the cadet crowd today with some areas not shown.
Only about 4,100 fans showed up, one of the bigger crowds of the year (second only to Clemson), but much different compared to the last few years, when there were times when CofC got a crowd of close to a sell-out (6,000).
The game was a grind-it-out battle. Neither team went out to more than a five-point lead through the first half. The score was 21-21 at halftime, as neither team shot over 30 percent in the first half. The Bulldogs went 13 minutes without scoring a point. Each team fought very hard. CofC had probably about half the fans in the crowd, maybe a little less. They were in a little foul trouble, as Anthony Stitt had three fouls at the half.
The fans on the road side were starting to get restless. At halftime, an elementary school juggling group from Summerville excited the crowd. A noted alum: Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green.
Andrew Goudelock was also in the house, the noted all-time leading scorer in College of Charleston history on his all-star break from the Los Angeles Lakers. He took autographs from fans, and was interviewed by CofC's radio team and by a local TV station.
The second half started out very slowly. Few points were scored, but the Bulldogs took a lead with about sixteen minutes to go. Fans were beginning to anticipate an exciting finish. It was short-lived though, as CofC had an 8-0 run to give them a lead, and Trent Wiedeman had a breakaway dunk to excite the Cougars crowd.
It was still close though. The game was within a six- or eight-point margin most of the second half, and a couple shots here and there could have made a big difference in the game. Free throws were very important for the Cougars.
CofC's largest lead was ten with 3:47 left, and the Dogs cut it to five late in the game, and had a shot to cut it more, but couldn't get it, and CofC eventually closed out the game.
It was a hard-fought win for the Cougars, number 19 on a year where they fought through the whole nine yards (injuries, a coaching change, and other factors). Now, they will have the Southern Conference tournament, and they are the #4 seed from the South Division. They will open up the tournament at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, March 2 against Appalachian State at the Asheville Civic Center.
The Citadel will follow up, as the #6 seed from the South, playing Western Carolina at 2 p.m that afternoon.
Coincidentally, this was my 19th game of the season. I have been to 13 CofC home games, four Citadel home games, one Charleston Southern home game, and a game in the Charleston Classic. Being a college student, with all of my local teams in Asheville now, I will most likely not be able to go to any games in these tournaments.
Hopefully, our teams will make a run in the conference tournament, and maybe they will be in one of our illustrious postseason tournaments. We all just have to hope. This hope is shared throughout Hoops Nation.
CHARLESTON 55, at THE CITADEL 47 02/25/2012
CHARLESTON 19-11 (10-8) -- T. Wiedeman 2-6 2-4 6; A. Wiggins 4-7 4-7 12; A. Lawrence 3-7 4-5 11; A. Baru 2-3 1-4 5; A. Stitt 4-7 4-5 12; N. Johnson 2-5 1-2 6; M. Sundberg 1-4 0-0 3; J. Scott 0-2 0-0 0; T. Dixon 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-41 16-27 55. THE CITADEL 6-23 (3-15) -- M. Groselle 7-12 0-2 14; B. Holston 3-9 2-2 8; D. Wright 0-4 10-12 10; M. Harris III 0-4 4-4 4; L. Miller 2-6 1-2 7; C. Bray 0-2 0-0 0; J. Robertson 2-3 0-0 4; C. Morabbi 0-1 0-0 0; A. Moore 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 14-42 17-22 47.
Three-point goals: COFC 3-19 (A. Wiggins 0-3; M. Sundberg 1-3; A. Lawrence 1-5; N. Johnson 1-4; J. Scott 0-2; A. Stitt 0-2), CITA 2-13 (B. Holston 0-2; D. Wright 0-3; C. Bray 0-2; M. Harris III 0-1; L. Miller 2-5); Rebounds: COFC 25 (T. Wiedeman 7), CITA 33 (M. Groselle 16); Assists: COFC 8 (A. Stitt 3), CITA 10 (D. Wright 4); Total Fouls -- COFC 21, CITA 20; Fouled Out: COFC-A. Lawrence; CITA-M. Harris III.