Game #9-010: Charleston Southern at Charlotte 49ersNovember 9, 2012 6:00 pm
Just as the first Tuesday of November holds special meaning as the climax of political campaigning, the second Friday of November each year holds special meaning in Our Game as the start of the season. While the offseason may have been better for certain teams than for others, nothing has been done to affect a team's postseason chances, unless an APR or other violation makes you ineligible. But for teams this season, once November 9 comes you better be ready. While conference play is bigger for most teams, early non-conference games are the standard for comparisons between conferences when it comes time for the selection process in March. For elite mid-major conferences like the Missouri Valley and the Atlantic 10, non-conference play might make the difference between being a one-bid conference and as much as four bids. For lower-tier mid-major conferences like the Big South and the Atlantic Sun, non-conference play might make the difference between a 13 seed and playing for a 16 in Dayton. While many casual fans might still be watching American-style football for the next couple months, this time of year is underrated in college basketball.
A new season also allows us to reflect on the past, and move on from there. My dad's alma mater, Southern Illinois, has fallen on hard times recently as Kyle talked about briefly in his most recent essay
. Their coach Chris Lowery was forced out and had to change places, as often happens in Our Game. Fortunately for Lowery, his connections with another former Saluki coach in Bruce Weber allowed him to get a job an assistant coaching job above the Red Line at Kansas State. Some players have transferred, and are now beginning new careers at a different school. Even with our own 800 Games Project participants things have changed. Most of the active participants from last year are on a Season 9 team, but some have opted out of committing to a team due to life circumstances.
As a recent graduate, I actually wish I was one of those people. About 10 months ago I graduated with my Master's degree in Public Administration, and when I wrote my last 800 Games Project recap
I hoped to be living a new life with a full-time job somewhere else. But so far I have only been able to stay with the local part-time and volunteer work that I have continued from my internship last fall. My other hopes last time I wrote here have also not been fulfilled much either. I have not had the time I thought I would to finish post-processing all my photos from last season to put them on the internet, and I still have yet to start the stadium photo blog I have been intending to start for years. But I continue to make progress, and hope to finally reach my goals before this season ends. No matter where life takes me the next few months, I know I can continue to lead the Hopping Cats. This season provides hope, and it should be fun.
So the next question was where to start my season. I had considered going to the Claflin-South Carolina State game to see the rare event of a rivalry game between two schools on opposite sides of the Black Line played at the Division II school. But Claflin did not have an online ticket system for a game with a high probability of selling out, and I am not comfortable enough trying to order via phone. So my best bet was to see the closest school to me I did not visit during the 800 Games Project, that being Charlotte.
I have not visited the UNC Charlotte campus much, mainly due to not liking trying to navigate the busy highways of the largest city in the Carolinas. My second most recent visit to Halton Arena was exactly five years ago, when I came on a High Point student bus trip for the first basketball game that I recorded as a part of my statistical database project of games I attended. That was the first game of what was supposed to be a very promising season for High Point. Our best player of the Division I era in AZ Reid was back for his senior year. AZ would be expected to hold the frontcourt, while fellow senior Mike Jefferson would hold down the backcourt as a sharp-shooting point guard. Three-time defending champion Winthrop had graduated half of its key contributors from its Round of 32 team the previous season and its coach Gregg Marshall had departed for Wichita State. The feeling was that this was the time we finally had a shot at Winthrop, and HPU was picked first over WU in the preseason Big South poll.
But injuries and inconsistent play would doom the season pretty quickly. In the game at Charlotte, Jefferson appeared to have been fouled on a half-court shot and would be given three free throws to give the Panthers the halftime lead. But after review the foul was deemed to be after the buzzer, and Charlotte maintained a narrow lead for the entire second half and won 61-55. The Panthers would go on to struggle and barely finished with a winning record that was aided by a soft non-conference schedule consisting of four very weak non-Division I teams. The lone season highlight was a one point home win to start conference play over Winthrop, but the Eagles would beat us in the semi-finals again en route to another tournament title.
Tonight, it was not High Point but rather Charleston Southern coming into Halton Arena as the promising Big South team on the rise. The Buccaneers finished last season fourth in the conference after years of struggling with some of the fewest resources in the Big South, most notably playing at the 881 seat CSU Field House. Aside from losing their best player in Kelvin Martin, all of the other Bucs return for the 2012-13 season. And with most of the conference hit hard by graduation that could be important. Charleston Southern, like High Point five years ago, was given the vote of confidence by the coaches and media as the preseason favorite alongside Campbell of the North Division. Tonight would be the first test to see if the rising Bucs could live up to the hype.
A Charleston Southern win over Charlotte would not be a Red Line Upset. Yet for the fans of the teams involved, any Big South win over an Atlantic 10 team would be considered big. And that is even with Charlotte having struggled recently against the rest of its conference. Halton Arena is a nicer facility than either the Vines Center of Liberty or the Winthrop Coliseum, which are considered to be the top arenas of the Big South. The 49ers still show clips on the video board of their Final Four appearance 35 years ago, a feat no Big South team has come close to accomplishing. Charlotte, like much of the Atlantic 10, would like to be considered major and as prominent as their schools above the Red Line. In message board discussion before the HPU game five years ago, Niner fans treated High Point condescendingly with some who had not known of a Division I school just up the road from them. Yet most Charlotte fans complain about the lack of media coverage like the rest of their mid-major brethren, and despise having "University of North Carolina" in their school name as it implies as more direct linkage to the ACC school in Chapel Hill. And after they escaped with a win five years ago, I saw one student giving another a piggyback ride out of the arena screaming jubilantly as if they had just gotten a big win. Charlotte, whether they like it or not, is a mid-major just like Charleston Southern. But CSU had more to prove here.
At game time, I received a tweet that Buccaneer guard Arlon Harper was injured, and it was rumored to be serious. It sounded from the tweet that this could be similar to the season ending injury that Jerald Minnis suffered just before that ill-fated High Point season five years ago. But aside from having a bandage just above his eye, Harper appeared to be fine and played a tough game. Harper was not afraid to be physical and would limp off the court on one collision in the second half tonight before returning by the end of the game.
Once the game tipped off, the season was underway and the Bucs would have to fight for a win that would have given them respect in Our Game. Early on, a big CSU win seemed to have a high probability. Charleston Southern led by nine early before the offense began to struggle. Even with big man Chris Braswell suspended, Charlotte had the advantage in size and depth. Charlotte could play a more physical game while CSU tried its best to stay out of mismatches. This led to the Bucs forcing too many three pointers, with over half of all field goal attempts coming from behind the arc. This did not prove to be a winning strategy for a team that shot 23 percent on 3-pointers, and Charlotte would end up leading by five at halftime.
at CHARLOTTE 68, CHARLESTON SOUTHERN 58
Despite 5-8 Saah Nimley controlling the ball for CSU and trying to make plays, he could not do what the much taller Kelvin Martin did last season in attacking the basket. The physical game favored the home team who drew more free throws and CSU was down by over 15 at one point in the second half before cutting the final margin of defeat to ten. Charlotte won 68-58 to the relief of the home crowd and Charleston Southern was still left searching for a signature to win to spark the new season.
It is hard to say how this will impact the season. The win could have a number of different impacts for Charlotte. For Charleston Southern, they still have a lot of time to make the most of their season. And even if they struggle throughout, the way Our Game works they can wait until they show up at Coastal Carolina's HTC Center in March to begin a conference title run and potential NCAA Tournament success as well. This is only the beginning. But it is the beginning that we have all waited for. Now it is up to all of us and each of us to seize our opportunities.
CHARLESTON SOUTHERN 0-1 (0-0) -- S. Nimley 7-20 3-5 20; M. Muo 2-9 1-2 6; P. Gombwer 1-6 0-1 3; S. Strickland 2-8 0-0 4; C. Bowen 1-1 4-5 6; A. Harper 4-11 2-3 12; J. Sexton 1-6 0-0 3; A. Fullah 1-3 0-0 2; M. Bernard 0-0 2-2 2; M. Kennedy 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 19-65 12-18 58.
CHARLOTTE 1-0 (0-0) -- P. Henry 3-10 4-5 10; D. Clarke 3-5 0-2 6; T. Williams 8-17 3-6 19; E. Nickerson 2-6 6-10 11; D. Ingram 2-10 2-2 7; W. Clayton 2-4 4-7 8; M. Thorne 2-4 0-1 4; C. Lewis 1-3 0-0 3. Totals 23-59 19-33 68.
Three-point goals: CHSO 8-34 (J. Sexton 1-4; M. Muo 1-5; S. Strickland 0-5; A. Harper 2-4; S. Nimley 3-12; P. Gombwer 1-4), CHAR 3-13 (C. Lewis 1-2; E. Nickerson 1-3; P. Henry 0-3; D. Ingram 1-5); Rebounds: CHSO 42 (M. Muo 11), CHAR 39 (D. Clarke 11); Assists: CHSO 9 (A. Harper 2), CHAR 7 (T. Williams 3); Total Fouls -- CHSO 25, CHAR 19; Fouled Out: CHSO-M. Muo; CHAR-None.