The Citadel's basketball program has gone through many interesting periods in its history. The program under former head coach Pat Dennis was one that played sometimes as many as four non Division I opponents in a year.
The lowest point in its history was in the 2003-04 season. The Dogs played Emmanuel, a NAIA school with about 750 students. They scheduled the game for 10 AM on a Saturday morning. Yes, 10 AM. They had free coffee and doughnuts for the crowd. They did not go home happy. Emmanuel had lost to Wofford, a low-level SoCon team at that time, by 44 points. Stunningly, tiny Emmanuel beat the Bulldogs in OT, 71-66. They blew a 15-point lead at home to an NAIA team. The Citadel had just 3 winning seasons in 15 years.In 2007-08, the College of Charleston had their first losing season ever in D1, closing out John Kresse Arena under Bobby Cremins, while The Citadel won just two Division I games, with every player but two upperclassmen a freshman. The crowds were tiny at McAlister Field House. Five thousand people attended a set of eight games. Combined. In a 6,000 seat arena.
In 2008-09, a renaissance occurred with basketball at the College and at The Citadel. CofC defeated South Carolina at Carolina First Arena in one of its biggest wins ever in Charleston at the time; and The Citadel had a great season of its own. With Coach Ed Conroy, the Bulldogs won 20 games. If you know Citadel basketball, you know how hard of an accomplishment this is.
When I was in high school, I was a fan of both the College of Charleston and The Citadel, however hard it is to admit it today. I supported both teams with equal amounts of intensity. The Citadel reeled off a 10-game winning streak, their longest ever, in January and February that year. The Bulldogs beat the College of Charleston that year twice. The cadets stormed the court for their first win over the Cougars in years.They then caught Davidson without Stephen Curry and stunned the Wildcats 64-46 on the road. The New York Times even grabbed on to the story, because of Ed Conroy, the son of the famous author Pat, coaching the Bulldogs. They covered one of their late-season games. I went to the game when the winning streak ended. On a Saturday night, the place was packed. They had 4,500 fans for Wofford, who isn't usually a big draw for The Citadel. They lost, but still were in position for a bye in the SoCon tournament. They won their next game before the tournament, getting the bye, but lost in their first game in Chattanooga, denying them of their best chance to win a SoCon title. They still made the postseason, losing to Old Dominion in the first year of the CIT.
The Cougars had a great year also. They won 27 games overall; upsetting Davidson twice. They beat them on an Antwaine Wiggins block of Curry at Davidson, a game where Dick Vitale made a very rare mid-major visit (for Stephen Curry). Then they shocked them in the SoCon tourney 59-52, making it to the finals. They had to play Chattanooga, the host team, in the finals though. Chattanooga went on a 20-0 run after the game was tied at halftime, denying the Cougars a SoCon tournament title and a trip to the NCAAs. They did win a game in the CBI over Troy.
2009-10 was one of the most anticipated years ever for college basketball in Charleston. Local fans knew that two of the perennial powers of college basketball, Michigan State and North Carolina, were coming to Charleston. Michigan State would travel to The Citadel on December 7, 2009; while North Carolina would go to Carolina First Arena on January 4, 2010.
The North Carolina game was one of the hardest tickets to get in Charleston sports history. To buy a ticket to the game, you had to purchase season tickets to all College of Charleston home games (a $210 value). Tickets did not go on sale to the general public; they sold out two and a half weeks before the game. I could not get a ticket to the game. Students were waiting hours before the game on a very cold afternoon to get into Carolina First Arena. Both local sports talk shows at the time did live remotes from the arena. To sit in the front rows of the arena, you had to be on the top part of a complicated points system.The game was back and forth throughout. It turned out to be probably the greatest night ever for CofC basketball in Charleston, as they upset the then #9
North Carolina Tar Heels 82-79 in overtime, thanks to Andrew Goudelock's 3-point shooting. To send the game to OT, he hit about a 25-foot 3 over a North Carolina defender with 2 seconds left. Mike Gleason, the play-by-play guy for that game on ESPNU, had a well-known call, which was: "Goudelock. Ohhh!!!" Charleston became a party on that night. Fans were partying in the streets next to the arena.The radio call of the final steal that sealed CofC's win aired on every national sports radio network; it was one of the lead stories on SportsCenter; and the game was picked for an Instant Classic, when it still meant something. CofC went on to another good season, but fell in the SoCon tournament to Appalachian State. They made the CBI again, beating Eastern Kentucky before succumbing to VCU, the year before they made the Final Four.
The Citadel game I attended, though, was a ton of fun. It was the biggest atmosphere ever for a game at McAlister Field House, and I have been to numerous games there when they played CofC. The cadets were out in full force for this one. The cadets get the entire section on the right side of the arena, an upper and a lower level. All the seats were filled in the cadet section. The Michigan State players had to walk through the cadets when they came out on the court, when they entered at the start of the game, and at halftime.It was a very hostile environment. The cadets had lots of words to say to the Michigan State players. 2012 NBA draft pick Draymond Green was playing, along with names that any die-hard college basketball fan would recognize. Kalin Lucas. Corey Lucious. Delvon Roe. Durell Summers. Many people who didn't normally go to Citadel basketball games were at this game. The South Carolina coach at the time, Darrin Horn, was at the game.Michigan State brought a huge number of fans. The Spartans had at least a thousand fans in the arena, maybe more, filling entire sections. Their fans were loud enough to start the "Go Green, Go White" cheer which is heard at their home basketball games, and their fans made the normal sound you hear at the Breslin Center. The game was nationally televised on ESPNU, a rarity for The Citadel. They have had just one home game televised from McAlister Field House since. All the others were on-line only. The Dogs played one of their best games that I had seen them play. They actually led in the first half, by as many as five points. They made twelve three-pointers in the game. The Bulldogs only trailed by four points at the half, 40-36. The cadets were only down four to mighty Michigan State, who was in the middle of back-to-back Final Fours.The second half started like the first. The Bulldogs kept it close; they cut the lead to just one point, 48-47 with only twelve and a half minutes to go. The Spartans were in for one of their biggest fights of the year.The Spartans though, got a 6-0 run to go up 54-47, and they controlled the rest of the game. Michigan State won 69-56, but the score felt much closer than that. The Citadel, a program that spends almost seven times less than Michigan State in basketball; not only hung with the Spartans, but gave them a very good game. Tom Izzo said about The Citadel; ''Could you be any dumber than I am?'' in reference to bringing his top 10 rated Spartans to McAlister Field House. The next season, Michigan State didn't play a game at a mid-major. Even though The Citadel lost this game to the Spartans, the program gained measured respect from one of the game's top coaches.
Events like these, when major conference teams come to packed gyms to play smaller schools; with exciting atmospheres and revved-up teams, is part of what makes college basketball great. The rare times when a mid-major slays a basketball giant, like when CofC defeated North Carolina, are some of the most electrifying parts of college sports.