Game #9-557: Liberty Flames vs. Charleston Southern BuccaneersMarch 10, 2013 1:00 pm
Myrtle Beach, SC
I have been a reader of this website regular since Season 4 after being in and out of the first three seasons on here. The reason I became a dedicated reader is because Kyle Whelliston connected to me more than any other sports writer. His experience was going to the same games I did, literally going to six of the same games in Season 4 that I did. He actually watched mid-major basketball and was the only writer out there who viewed Our Game the same way I did. He wrote excellent articles I could relate to about traveling, overcoming financial disadvantages, and even the burnout that led him to turning the writing on here over to the readers. I agree with Kyle far more often I disagree with him. I agree with him about what constitutes an "upset" when most basketball fans do not. I also feel disheartened watching our teams lose during the NCAA Tournament as he does. But with any writer you love, you end of being disappointed the more you know them
. And for me, I just do not have the same romantic feeling Kyle has of conference tournaments
Maybe it is because I have never been to all of one conference tournament. My conference, the Big South, has done in the past used the campus site format loathed by Kyle. Or most likely it is because the mid-majors I feel most attached to do not win these tournaments either. My High Point Panthers have never won the conference tournament, and have not reached the final in nine years when they lost by 45 points to Liberty. Kyle described the NCAA Tournament as being more sorrow than joy, which I agree with him. And then he dismissed the schools that lose during Championship Fortnight as, "tempered anyway, all those seasons that were over before they even began". But for me, I have a passion for those schools as well, and feel sad to see them lose. I felt bad seeing Presbyterian go out
after a closely contested first ever postseason game. I felt bad for Coastal Carolina
as a local school I nearly went to myself, even though I felt that they had not properly earned hosting rights. I felt bad for Longwood, coming up short before Parks Smith could see his team play in the postseason for the first time. I felt bad for Gardner-Webb
, which had a hot season screech to a halt in the previous game. And of course we had my school High Point lose
. All that we had left was the great story of Charleston Southern against Liberty's empire
. If our regular season champions could win here, a great story would be completed in CSU's rise to the NCAA Tournament. But if they lost, the Big South would be represented by an empire with a Mountain West sized athletic budget.
So that is why conference tournaments have been about sorrow for me as well. Part of me likes the Ivy League model, where Harvard got in and won as a 14 seed without having to win a conference tournament. The Ivy League does not hold a tournament mainly to not take their players out of the rigorous classes they must take at an Ivy League institution. If the Big South had the Ivy League format, Charleston Southern would face High Point in a one game playoff at a neutral site (most likely Winthrop). That is a final that I would have liked to have seen more for obvious reasons. But yet I still like that magical chance, where the season never dies until with one loss at the end and you have a shot at a national title until then. Under the current system, nobody is eliminated from contention in January. So maybe we could possibly expand the tournament and include the regular season and tournament champions (an idea I am sure Kyle would REALLY hate). Or we could just go back to the higher seeds hosting, which Kyle feels takes away from the specialness of the tournament. In that case, Charleston Southern would be hosting (most likely at College of Charleston or the North Charleston Coliseum because of the Buc Dome's problems). I like something that rewards the regular season. The current format caters to much to the Johnny-come-lately fans who only show up in March that both me and Kyle strongly dislike. The season is about the long haul, and we need to make the journey count more.
But rather than hosting, Charleston Southern would be facing Liberty on a neutral floor. Both schools brought about 500 fans to the game each, with another thousand unaffiliated fans at the HTC Center (mostly coming from the host school Coastal Carolina). Charleston Southern had won the regular season title, and now they needed to defend it. The student leader who implored his fellow students to get loud so CSU could get to that first conference title in 16 years back in January needed another win to make it all happen
. They had to defeat the empire, and then they would be rewarded. But defeating an empire is hard, even one that went 11-20 in the regular season. And the Liberty train would get going early, with both Davon Marshall and John Caleb Sanders making superhoops to go ahead. Charleston Southern would claw back and even the game, only for Marshall and Sanders to do their thing. Charleston Southern came back again and took the lead in the final minute of the half. But Tavares Speaks then made a shot at the buzzer, and Liberty had the halftime lead. CSU needed to do what they did against VMI the day before.
But Speaks' shot at the buzzer stopped the Buc momentum going into the second half. Charleston Southern continued to hang around, and led briefly early in the second half. But Charleston Southern needed good shooting to beat the bigger Flames. And while they shot well all year at the Buc Dome, they never got it going in four games at the HTC Center. As the game entered the final minutes, LU's lead increased to double digits. Davon Marshall kept hitting three after three after superhoop. Marshall made six of seven shots behind the arc, and it was increasingly evident that Charleston Southern was not going to be stopping the empire. And as a result, all their hard work all season towards finally putting together their best season in many years was only going to land them in NIT, also known as America's Premier Ghost Bracket. As we did the Interlude at the final media timeout (the only time it was done outside halftime in the tournament), I only did it with half the energy. The game would not even be close in the end. Liberty would win 87-76, and as Liberty fans rushed the court in a tightly controlled manner
I could only help but feel bad for the team whose magical season ended.
The tournament was now over, and the empire made its conquest. I had finally watched an entire conference tournament, and the last team I was rooting for had fallen. While both Charleston Southern and Liberty have the same religious background, they are much different in every other regard. Liberty, as I mentioned in my last recap, is an empire built up over 40 years by Jerry Falwell and his family. Charleston Southern is a school with among the fewest resources at the Division I level, playing in a gym smaller than some middle schools. They were the true underdog story. But it was the empire that got to play the underdog card with 20 losses. You cannot dismiss the story of Charleston Southern as being "over before (it) even began". But they now were going to the NIT while the Big South was represented by a school that spends at a C-USA or Mountain West level. And I was happy to see the empire finally going down nine days later to another big tournament underdog in North Carolina A&T, who I also saw play. It was someone in Hoops Nation with financial challenges that brought Liberty's run to an end. But by that point, I was mourning the loss of all the seasons that died this week in Conway.
LIBERTY 87, CHARLESTON SOUTHERN 76
LIBERTY 15-20 (6-10) -- D. Marshall 6-9 2-2 20; J. Sanders 7-13 11-12 27; T. Speaks 7-13 4-6 18; A. Smith 2-4 1-2 5; T. Gielo 3-6 0-0 7; J. Coronado 0-1 5-6 5; J. Vander Pol 2-8 1-2 5; C. Roberts 0-2 0-0 0; S. Ogukwe 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-56 24-30 87.
CHARLESTON SOUTHERN 19-12 (12-4) -- S. Nimley 7-17 3-6 18; M. Muo 5-10 0-0 12; J. Sexton 5-10 5-6 17; A. Harper 3-9 6-8 14; P. Gombwer 1-2 0-0 2; S. Strickland 3-7 2-4 10; C. Bowen 1-2 1-2 3; M. Kennedy 0-1 0-0 0; A. Fullah 0-1 0-2 0; M. Bernard 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-60 17-28 76.
Three-point goals: LIB 9-18 (J. Caleb Sanders 2-5; T. Gielo 1-4; D. Marshall 6-7; C. Roberts 0-2), CHSO 9-28 (J. Sexton 2-5; M. Muo 2-7; S. Strickland 2-4; A. Harper 2-4; S. Nimley 1-7; M. Bernard 0-1); Rebounds: LIB 38 (T. Speaks 9), CHSO 29 (A. Fullah 7); Assists: LIB 11 (J. Caleb Sanders 4), CHSO 6 (S. Nimley 3); Total Fouls -- LIB 21, CHSO 24; Fouled Out: LIB-J. Coronado; CHSO-A. Harper.
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