It would have been convenient for me if the Big South Tournament had ended up being in Conway for the third straight year. There would have been no travel, and I could have avoided getting a hotel room. Part of me though wanted the tourney to be held elsewhere since it would become a mini-vacation for me. Once UNC-Asheville clinched the regular season title a few weeks ago, I was glad I'd be able to go to a new venue. With the SoCon tourney in Asheville the same weekend, it became an added bonus. The fact that Asheville had been dubbed "Beer City USA" was the cherry on top of my journey.
Getting to Asheville was the part that I wasn't looking forward to since at nearly 5 hours, it would be my longest drive of the season. The first game between Coastal Carolina and VMI was at noon so I'd have to be up early to make it in time. I did hit the snooze button a few times when my initial alarm hit, but I eventually made it on the road. The ride up to Spartanburg was already familiar since I had made it a few weeks prior, but beyond that was the part that had me a bit worried. My car is getting up there in miles and once the gradient of the road started to ramp up in the Appalachian Mountains so did my concern for the condition of my car. My Saturn Ion shimmied and shook and I could hear the transmission not enjoying the steeper sections of the road, but I luckily made it over the mountain top.
When I made it to the UNC-Asheville campus I was greeted with a $5 parking fee, not exactly the best first impression since I hadn't had to pay to park at any other Big South location. I was impressed with the new to this year Kimmel Arena which is very similar in design to Campbell's Gore Arena. I can only hope that when CCU gets its new Convocation Center next year, that it is just as nice as the rest of the newer facilities in the Big South.
I wasn't expecting a large turnout for the CCU and VMI game. Local interest would obviously be for when UNCA played in the evening. A small group of fans made the trip for the both teams though with CCU outnumbering the VMI contingent of friends and family. Neither team brought their cheerleaders, mascots, or band, so it would end up being the tamest atmosphere throughout the day.
CCU had beaten VMI 4 days earlier in Lexington and had an eight-game winning streak against them. It seemed like the best possible draw for the Chanticleers since any other team had already beaten then this year. The Keydets didn't want the streak to go to nine games though as they came out hot, nailing their 3-pointers, which they had struggled to do in the meeting on Saturday.
The lead was up to 23-12 for VMI with Keith Gabriel and Jordan Weethee lighting it up. CCU was able to get the ball down low to Sam McLaurin and Jon Pack who were scoring with relative ease at times, but whenever the CCU big men scored a bucket down low, the Keydets would march down and sink another 3. VMI controlled most of the first half, but Danny Nieman was able to hit a late 3 to keep the Chants within striking distance only down 6 at the half.
By the end of the half I had switched where I was sitting since I was approached to do the halftime contest. I agreed to do it since there was barely anyone in the arena to witness it if I screwed up badly. The contest was your basic shooting contest where you have three chances to make a layup, two shots at a free throw and 1 3-pointer. I was very nervous since I hadn't shot a basketball in four or five years. I left my layup short on the first attempt, but thankfully made the second. My first free throw was an airball and I was only able to catch the front rim on my second attempt. I took my time on the 3 only to know that when it left my hand that it was terribly wrong. It went WAY left and all I could do was laugh at how bad it was. I guess I'll stick with the non-physical activity promotions, like the trivia questions, if I ever get asked to do it again.
I was hoping that some of my bad shooting would rub off on VMI and it did at first when CCU had the lead down to 1 at 45-44. From that point on it would be all VMI. The hot shooting returned and that one point lead went to 11 in just over a minute. CCU was slugged in the mouth and I looked for a response, but it never came. Gabriel and Weethee were still burying shots with the addition of Stan Okoye and Rodney Glasgow joining in on the fun. An Okoye put back slam had the Chanticleers dead to rights with an 18-point deficit.
VMI was able to pull off the first upset of Championship Fortnight. You could tell they wanted to survive and advance just a little bit more. They will be a tough team for anyone to beat if they can stay hot from 3 and are able to play their game. It was another flameout for Coastal as they now have gone through three straight years of disappointment in the Big South Tourney.
VIRGINIA MILITARY INSTITUTE 85, at COASTAL CAROLINA 68 02/29/2012
VIRGINIA MILITARY INSTITUTE 16-15 (8-10) -- R. Burks 3-6 5-6 13; S. Okoye 5-11 4-8 15; K. Gabriel 7-12 3-4 20; D. Covington 2-2 1-2 5; Q. Upshur 3-5 0-0 7; R. Glasgow 2-4 2-2 7; M. Sparks 1-3 0-0 3; J. Weethee 5-6 0-0 15; J. Watson 0-0 0-0 0; B. Brown 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-49 15-22 85. COASTAL CAROLINA 19-11 (12-6) -- K. Greenwood 5-10 1-2 11; S. McLaurin 7-9 0-0 14; W. Gillis 2-5 2-2 6; A. Raffa 5-8 0-1 12; C. Gradnigo 1-9 6-6 9; D. Nieman 1-4 2-4 5; J. Pack 3-4 0-0 6; J. Griffin 2-2 0-0 5; D. Moore 0-0 0-0 0; B. Addey 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-51 11-15 68.
Three-point goals: VMI 14-28 (R. Burks 2-4; K. Gabriel 3-7; M. Sparks 1-3; S. Okoye 1-2; R. Glasgow 1-3; Q. Upshur 1-3; J. Weethee 5-6), CCU 5-12 (C. Gradnigo 1-4; A. Raffa 2-3; D. Nieman 1-3; J. Griffin 1-1; K. Greenwood 0-1); Rebounds: VMI 22 (S. Okoye 5), CCU 27 (S. McLaurin 10); Assists: VMI 20 (S. Okoye 5), CCU 15 (K. Greenwood 8); Total Fouls -- VMI 13, CCU 16; Fouled Out: VMI-None; CCU-None.