Game #9-550: George Mason Patriots at Charleston CougarsMarch 19, 2013 7:00 pm
Carolina First Center
College basketball is a sport which is filled with sadness by the teams that lose to end their seasons. 343 teams (sometimes less if a team wins its final game and misses the conference tournament) end their seasons with a loss. Four teams end their seasons with wins, the winners of the NCAA, NIT, CBI and CIT tournaments at the end of each season.
The postseason of college basketball is one that has grown fast as the sport has grown across the country. As recently as 2007, only 97 teams made the postseason of college basketball. Now, 148 teams do. Even though this is slammed by purists and fans who think that these lower level tournaments are beneath them, these tournaments still do serve a purpose.
Winning the NCAA championship is one of the biggest feats in sports. Six wins in must-win games against tough competition is tough for anyone. That is why it is always appreciated when a mid-major gets close to the promised land of the Final Four.
The NIT title is less prestigious, but there is still a lot to play for. You get to go play in the World's Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden, if you make the semifinals, and get extra practice time for the next season. Plus, there is the tradition of a tournament that is almost eighty years old.
The CIT title for mid-majors is important. Albany last year was in the CBI: they made the NCAA tournament this season and gave Duke a very good game. Creighton played in the CIT in 2010; they built on that, making the CBI in 2011 and then earning back-to-back single-digit seeds in the NCAAs.
The CBI also has a purpose. Virginia Commonwealth won the tournament in 2010. In fact, they played CofC in the CBI, and the Cougars gave them a very good game, losing by just seven. We all know what has happened to them since.
The College of Charleston and George Mason both had a purpose by playing in this tournament. Neither team wanted to end their seasons the way they did, with difficult losses in their conference tournaments. The College of Charleston had a very good season under their first-year Head Coach Doug Wojcik. They had 24 wins, upsetting Baylor in Waco, possibly keeping them out of the NCAAs, and finishing 14-4 in the Southern Conference.
In the SoCon finals, however, they succumbed to Davidson for the third time on the season, 74-55 in Asheville. Because of seven home losses, and declining attendance, fans attributed this to the new coach. However, the CBI was a chance for the Cougars season to end on a positive note, and to give a great closing for Andrew Lawrence, Matt Sundberg and Bart Benton, their three seniors.
George Mason finished 18-14 on the season. They ended their conference tournament blowing a 22-point first half lead in Richmond against Northeastern in the CAA semis. It would have been a sad end of the year for Coach Paul Hewitt and his troops.
CofC and George Mason had been rivals for the past few seasons. In 2010, CofC defeated George Mason in a crazy finish in Fairfax during the Bracketbuster. A charge was called on Ryan Pearson on a play that would have given GMU the tying basket. George Mason foul
In the return game at TD Arena, Pearson had a crazy game, with 35 points, ending the College's 15 game home court winning streak. My recap of that game is here.
CofC got the call on Sunday night that they would host this game, against George Mason, a potential rival in the CAA next year. As conference realignment changes, that potential changed.
The last time that CofC hosted a postseason game was in the 2011 NIT. The Cougars got very lucky. They were matched up with Dayton as the 7 seed in the NIT, and hosted the Flyers, the 2 seed because Dayton's arena was booked with the First Four. It was a crazy atmosphere that night on George Street.
Brad Nessler and Jimmy Dykes called the game on ESPN2, Andrew Goudelock torched the Flyers for 39 points, and the arena nearly sold-out on less than 48 hours notice. The Cougars were in place to host another game if Vermont had beaten Cleveland State in the first round, but Cleveland State narrowly escaped the Catamounts.
Things were different this time around in the College Basketball Invitational. TD Arena's seating was opened to everyone. Anybody could sit wherever they wanted in general admission seating. AXS TV, a channel that the main cable system in Charleston, Comcast, does not even pick up, was carrying the game. Many season ticket holders had plans on a beautiful Tuesday evening, one of the nicest of the year, and couldn't make it.
Also, The Citadel was hosting South Carolina in baseball at Riley Park. Much of the local media attention was focused on this game. The baseball game across town more than tripled the attendance at TD Arena for this game. The Citadel and South Carolina had nearly 6,000 fans come out for a Tuesday night game with each team's fourth starting pitcher throwing.
Charleston is one of the biggest college baseball towns in probably the biggest college baseball state in the nation. After the season opens up in February, coverage of the local basketball teams declines. Even College of Charleston baseball gets more coverage statewide than their basketball team. Last season after they defeated South Carolina and Clemson on the road, they got more coverage than almost all of their basketball wins in the last couple of years.
When I walked into TD Arena, I knew this game was going to be a wild one. I saw CAA Commissioner Tom Yeager, who had a court side seat to watch his new conference team face the Patriots, who had been in the CAA for over 30 years. CAA shirts were also given out to students at the game.
Free food was given out to the students from The Kickin' Chicken, a local restaurant chain; a free wrap, chips and a drink. A very small crowd of students showed. The normal group that has been to almost all of the games were there, along with a few other groups. About 10 guys walked in about 10 minutes to tip-off. They had their shirts off, and they were painted up for the TV cameras. That's what you expect.
What you don't expect is what happened. Several of the students were extremely drunk, having had several drinks prior to the game. About five minutes through the first half, the dam burst. One of the guys, a guy in a collared shirt and black glasses, had a vicious tirade. He was as mad as I've ever seen anyone in any situation. He was so drunk that he couldn't walk the few feet from the student section entrance to the room where the food was even though signs were directing the students.
After he spent a few minutes walking around, he decided to yell at anyone and everyone in sight, including myself and a few of the other students. "WHY CAN'T I GET MY FOOD! THIS IS A CONSIPRACY! I AM GOING TO EMAIL EVERYONE IN THE ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT AND I WON'T GO TO ANOTHER GAME UNLESS THEY PROVIDE FREE FOOD!" This involved some juicier language and a longer yelling fit. You just had to be there for that moment. A guy complaining that he couldn't get a chicken wrap.
Willis Hall was unable to play because he had broken his foot in practice. This hurt the Cougars inside play. He was sorely needed in an ugly first half. The Cougars had trailed most of the first half, by as much as eleven points. George Mason couldn't miss a 3-pointer. They were shooting over 60% in the first half, and the Cougars were lucky to be down only eight points at halftime, 44-36.
Something stranger happened at halftime. One of the guys that I have been with in the student section all season, and has been to nearly every game, was standing in the student section right next to me at the half when another student was so drunk that he vomited on the guy. Yes, vomited. It took probably 20-30 minutes for the mess to clean up, and everybody who was in that area moved to other sections to get away from the smell. Most of the athletic department staffers decided to sit in the section during the second half to protect the section from getting dirtier.
So in one half of basketball, I had seen a guy yell f-bombs complaining about not getting his free chicken wrap and a student vomit on another student. Just your ordinary basketball game.
The second half became a great basketball game. It was one of the best halves of the year that I had seen. The Cougars quickly went out on an 8-2 run to cut the deficit to two at 46-44. Both GMU and CofC were matching shots left and right. Neither team got out to more than a five point lead in the entire half, and the lead changed hands at least four times. Anthony Stitt for CofC made five three-pointers in the second half.
He was scalding hot from the field. The small crowd at TD Arena, about 1,700 or so, got very loud, trying to implore the Cougars on to a victory. There was a reward for the winner. They would get to play on for another game this season. The winner of this game would face the winner of the Texas/Houston game played at Houston. If CofC won, they had the possibility of hosting Texas in their next game in the CBI, which would bring a lot of money to the school.
CofC had held Sherrod Wright, George Mason's star player to just four points in the second half. Trent Wiedeman's layup with 6:48 left gave the Cougars a 65-63 lead, and the crowd at TD Arena got very loud. They got as loud as some games that got close to sellouts. With every good play, the crowd seemed to get louder and louder.
Corey Edwards tied the game at 69 with 3:27 left for George Mason. Stitt made a huge 3 with 2:54 left to give CofC a 3-point lead, then Edwards turned it over. This headed into the last media timeout. Sherrod Wright then fouled with 2:22, and Lawrence made two critical free throws to give the Cougars a five-point lead.
After two Wright FTs at 2:09, the Cougars got the ball back up 3, and Lawrence made a huge three-pointer. With 1:40 left at home, CofC was up six points, 77-71. The fans were starting to feel a big win. Jonathan Arledge, however, cut the lead to four with a layup. After a Stitt turnover at 1:26, right after the Arledge layup, Bryon Allen quickly made a three. Suddenly, it was a one point game at 77-76. In seven seconds, George Mason cut the Cougar lead from six to one.
After CofC used most of the shot clock in their next possession, Lawrence missed a layup. Erik Copes got the rebound, then Bryon Allen had one of the worst turnovers I've seen in a game this season. The ball went about fifteen feet wide of the target. Jerry Rice couldn't even have caught the pass made by Allen there.
CofC had the ball, with :42 left and a one-point lead. The Cougars called two of their timeouts in order to setup a play. Anthony Stitt missed a jumper from the free throw line.
A crazy finish then occurred. Watch starting at :17
. From my view, there looked to be perhaps a charge and an offensive goal tending that were not called during George Mason's final possession, as Erik Copes tipped the ball in with less than a second to go.
CofC ended up having just half a second to try to make a final play, and Stitt badly missed from half-court. The Cougars suffered one of their most heartbreaking losses in several years. There hadn't been a buzzer beater in any of the games that I have attended at TD Arena in the last three years, but this game ended with one of the crazier finishes I've seen in any game.
If this game was an NCAA or even an NIT game and ended like that, it would make national news and everyone would be talking about it. However, it was a CBI game that stayed in anonymity, played on the same night as Robert Morris's huge upset of Kentucky and two NCAA First Four games. It was a great basketball game though, which is all you can ask for in a tournament like this. It was a very difficult loss for the Cougars; as this was the last game Trent Wiedeman will most likely play. He is transferring after the season so he can move to a university closer to his Georgia home. He had a very good 3-year career at CofC, and after sitting out, he will have a year to play.
It was a good season for the Cougars, as they won five more games than last season, won four more conference games, and played a different style of defense that hadn't been seen in several years.
After Charleston Southern lost on Wednesday night at Southern Mississippi in the NIT, this meant another basketball season in South Carolina was over, as only two teams from SC made the postseason, CofC and Charleston Southern.
This also meant my season was over. It was a very good one. This was my 23rd or 24th game of the season, if you count the Murray State/St. John's game that I was at for a half and the ODU/CofC game that Ian recapped. I had been to every CofC home game, something I had never done before. In the previous two seasons, I had to miss at least one game to a prior commitment. I also went to four Citadel home games, and all of those were good games that I enjoyed. They lost all four games (one to CofC), but they are great values because you can see a D1 game for a very cheap price.
My favorite moments of the season were the pregame activities against Louisville for CofC on December 4 and when Charleston Southern won the Big South regular season title on March 2. The atmosphere at TD Arena before the game that night was unmatched. Every seat in the arena filled, and a buzz that wasn't rivaled the entire season for CofC, perhaps for any team in the state. The Cougars got blown out by one of the best teams in the nation, but it was still a lot of fun to watch a team of that caliber play in TD Arena.
Charleston Southern winning the Big South regular season title is another scene I won't soon forget. The students storming the court right after the game, with their whiteboard proclamation of Big South Champs!, sitting so close to the court for such an important game, and all the cameras on the court at the end taking pictures of the Big South champions.
This picture was one of my favorites of the year. An excited head coach, Barclay Radebaugh, imploring the rest of the students on the court to celebrate their title.
Next season in Charleston will be very exciting. The College of Charleston will move from the SoCon to the CAA (Colonial Athletic Association), as a completely changed team. They will rely on their big men, Adjehi Baru, Willis Hall, and Tulsa transfer David Wishon at 7'2, to compete in the new league. They will play in the ESPN tournament in Anaheim over Thanksgiving, including Marquette, Miami (FL), Creighton, and San Diego State, and will also have some very good home games.
Next year it looks like they will play Miami, Kent State and Marist at TD Arena in addition to their CAA schedule. It is still subject to change, but it looks like a very good schedule for them. Charleston Southern returns almost everybody from a team that won the Big South regular season title and went to the finals in their tournament, and will be a force next year. Charleston Southern's Buc Dome will remain as one of the toughest places to play in mid-major basketball.
They will travel to Wofford as part of the return game for the Bracketbuster. The Citadel will continue in the Southern Conference, getting several new recruits and with their heavily underclassmen lineup gaining another year of experience. They will continue to play the College of Charleston once a year. This time, the game will be at McAlister Field House.
We also have the Charleston Classic coming back in 2013. Clemson, Georgia and Temple will headline the tournament, but two mid-majors will likely join the tourney later on.
Charleston will be the capital of mid-major basketball in the South in 2013-14. Just within a 20-minute drive of downtown Charleston, you'll be able to see the CAA, Southern Conference and the Big South, with three very interesting teams. You also have the Charleston Classic adding more intrigue. I had a very good year watching basketball, and hopefully 2013-14 will be the year that ends the drought of Charleston area teams going to the Big Dance.
GEORGE MASON 78, at CHARLESTON 77
GEORGE MASON 19-14 (10-8) -- B. Allen 4-9 0-0 11; S. Wright 6-11 7-7 20; E. Copes 7-8 0-0 14; J. Arledge 5-9 0-1 11; V. Vaughns 1-4 0-0 2; C. Edwards 4-4 0-0 10; P. Holloway 2-5 0-0 5; M. Gujanicic 1-4 0-0 3; P. Bennett 0-1 2-2 2; V. Gray 0-0 0-0 0; A. Okoloji 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-55 9-10 78.
CHARLESTON 24-11 (14-4) -- A. Lawrence 3-8 7-7 14; A. Baru 5-8 6-7 16; A. Stitt 7-11 2-2 21; A. Thomas 2-7 2-2 7; T. Wiedeman 4-5 3-4 11; M. Sundberg 1-2 0-0 3; N. Johnson 2-6 0-0 5; T. Johnson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-47 20-22 77.
Three-point goals: GMU 9-19 (P. Bennett 0-1; V. Vaughns 0-3; S. Wright 1-2; B. Allen 3-4; J. Arledge 1-1; C. Edwards 2-2; M. Gujanicic 1-2; P. Holloway 1-4), COFC 9-21 (M. Sundberg 1-2; A. Lawrence 1-4; N. Johnson 1-5; A. Stitt 5-7; A. Thomas 1-3); Rebounds: GMU 23 (J. Arledge 5), COFC 22 (A. Baru 7); Assists: GMU 15 (B. Allen 6), COFC 11 (A. Lawrence 6); Total Fouls -- GMU 17, COFC 11; Fouled Out: GMU-M. Gujanicic; COFC-None.
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