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Southern Conference Tournament

by Rick Dimon | March 4th, 2007

Recap

March 3, 6:00 EST, North Charleston Coliseum
ESPN2

Champion: Davidson Wildcats

Runner-Up: College of Charleston Cougars

All-Tournament Second Team:

Nick Aldridge, Western Carolina
Jeremy Clayton, Appalachian State
Kyle Hines, UNC-Greensboro
Josh Jackson, College of Charleston
Demetrius Scott, Appalachian State

All-Tournament First Team:

Stephen Curry, Davidson
Dontaye Draper, College of Charleston
Jermaine Johnson, College of Charleston
Donte Minter, Appalachian State
Jason Richards, Davidson

Most Outstanding Player: Stephen Curry, Davidson

Quarterfinals vs. UT-Chattanooga: 6 for 16 FG, 5 for 6 FT, 3 for 11 3P, 20 points
Semi-Finals vs. Furman: 9 for 14 FG, 6 for 6 FT, 6 for 10 3P, 30 points
Finals vs. College of Charleston: 10 for 24 FG, 5 for 7 FT, 4 for 11 3P, 29 points

Championship Game Recap:

With the hometown College of Charleston Cougars playing for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, the atmosphere inside the North Charleston Coliseum was electric. An enormous—yet outnumbered—Davidson contingent made its presence felt, but the Charleston fanbase, buzzing with thoughts of pulling off another upset, raged even louder. Even before the opening tip, you could tell this was a game that was for all the marbles. Expectations for a classic of Charleston-Appalachian State proportions ran rampant throughout the arena. And the Cougars and Wildcats did not disappoint.

Dontaye Draper, Charleston’s star guard, picked up right where he left off after delivering 38 points in the semi-final victory over App. State. He connected on his first two shot attempts, including one from beyond the arc, to account for Charleston’s first five points. Davidson fans who saw his previous day’s performance were no doubt already fearing a repeat of that outburst. While it was not to be for Draper, the Cougars got serious help from other key components to keep them in the game throughout the night.

In the first half it came from Tony White Jr. The freshman guard nailed three three-pointers in the opening twenty minutes of play, the second of which gave Charleston a 15-10 lead and sent the Cougar faithful into an early frenzy.

The Cougars also benefited from seeing Wildcat point guard Jason Richards on the floor for just eight minutes in the first half. Richards picked up his second foul with 11:23 remaining and spent the rest of the opening frame on the bench.

Charleston, however, did not capitalize on the absence of Davidson’s floor general. Stephen Curry took over at the point for the Wildcats and did an admirable job in Richard’s place, both taking care of the ball and pouring in a flurry of points late in the half after an early-game dry spell. In a span of two minutes and thirty-seven seconds, Curry poured in 11 points—most coming on SportsCenter worthy shots—to leave Charleston fans in a state of utter shock and Wildcat admirers in blissful awe.

Under normal circumstances as the four-point underdogs, the Cougars would have been feeling good about going into halftime down just 37-35 and with an obvious chance to pull the game out. But having had Richards on the floor for such a short period of time, it was the Wildcats who bolted into the locker room feeling pretty good about themselves.

Two other factors also pointed to a potential Wildcat runaway in the second half. Not only is Davidson the much deeper team to begin with, but the Cougars battled with Appalachian State for 45 brutal minutes of basketball while Davidson toyed with the Furman Paladins in their semi-final laugher. Moreover, all three of Charleston’s big men—Josh Jackson, Jermaine Johnson, and Philip McCandies—had two fouls heading into the break.

The Wildcats seemed to be taking advantage of the situation early in the second half and seemed poised to take the suspense right out of the stadium. Boris Meno put in a Curry miss to start the second-half scoring, then followed it up on the next possession with a three-pointer from the top of the key. Just like that Davidson surged to 42-35 lead. The Wildcats again built the advantage to seven after Draper fouled Curry on a three-point attempt—Draper’s second such mishap of the evening—and the freshman knocked in all three from the charity stripe.

The Cougars, however, had come too far to just lie down and concede that their run had run out of steam. Instead, Jackson, Johnson, and David Lawrence all caught fire and not only kept Charleston in the game, but gave the hometown heroes a lead. Over a seven-minute span midway through the second half, the Cougars went on a 19-4 run that changed the game from a 47-39 Wildcat advantage to 56-51, Cougars.

Every time Charleston issued a challenge, however, the Wildcats had a swift and decisive answer. With Davidson down by five at the seven-minute mark, freshman Will Archambeau hit a runner in the lane to end a long scoring drought and Curry nailed a three-pointer on the next possession to tie the game. After a Lawrence three-ball at the other end, Curry drilled yet another game-tying strike from beyond the arc.

This wasn’t the Appalachian State-Davidson matchup for which the nation—or at least the Southern Conference–had been clamoring, but at this point in the contest it felt no different from a heavyweight title fight with constant deliveries of massive body blows.

Somehow, someway, it was the Davidson Wildcats who finally delivered the knockout punch. Meno put the ’Cats up with a three-point play, then a Curry steal and Thomas Sander layup had the Davidson faithful smelling a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.

The never-say-die Cougars continued to hang around, but a backdoor cut and layup by Richards with 1:20 remaining put Davidson up four and all but crippled Charleston’s dreams of going to the Big Dance in head coach Bobby Cremins’ first season at the Cougar helm. Two Meno free-throws and an authoritative Meno dunk put the exclamation point on the Wildcats’ victory. After three exhausting days in Charleston and 40 minutes of edge-of-your-seat drama, Davidson prevailed 72-65 in the Southern Conference Championship and had a second straight automatic bid to the Big Dance.

Game Notes: Draper shot just 2-for-11 and finished with eight points. He was held without a field goal for the last 37:44 of the game. Draper was clearly tired, but tons of credit has to go to Davidson guard Max Paulhus-Gosselin and a ruthless Wildcat trap defense…. Charleston had two opportunities to go up eight points in the last seven minutes of the game that could have very easily changed the outcome. But White Jr. missed a three and Lawrence, who was on fire at the time, also misfired on a wide-open shot from long distance…. Meno recorded a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, six of which were offensive….Charleston made 6 of 10 free throws while Davidson connected on 14 of 17. Without a doubt a huge difference in the ballgame….The Cougars turned the ball over 20 times. The Wildcats committed just 11 turnovers, including only a combined total of four by guards Richards and Curry.

Southern Conference’s NCAA Tournament Outlook: Appalachian State probably needed to get to the championship game and lose to Davidson in a thriller to get an at-large bid, but the Mountaineers are still on the bubble. Head coach Houston Fancher has already begun lobbying to the tournament committee, calling—quite interestingly and a bit perplexing—his team “the class of the Southern Conference.” The Mountaineers certainly cannot say that definitively, but they do have a compelling resume. They are 25-7, have a non-conference RPI of 7, and a #4 non-conference strength of schedule ranking. Their actual RPI at the moment is a mediocre 60, but their RPI with Donte Minter eligible (the UVA transfer had to sit out the first eight games of the season) is in the mid-30s. All that is enough to build a case, but it will probably be a losing one.

Davidson is off to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in two years. Last season the Wildcats picked up a 15 seed and traveled to Dayton, Ohio to play the Ohio State Buckeyes. Davidson led 25-20 at the half and ended up losing a well-contested game by a score of 70-62. The ’Cats are in line for a much better seed this time around. They should be in one of the always-interesting 12-5 games, but a 13 seed and an 11 seed are both possibilities. In a post-game speech at the team hotel in Charleston, head coach Bob McKillop jokingly made an appeal to the committee. “We’re 29-4 and have lost just one game since November…. Give me a nine seed!” He was obviously joking, but this is no joke: Davidson is a mid-major with major upset potential in the early rounds.

-Rick Dimon


2007 Southern Conference Championship Preview

#1 Davidson Wildcats Wildcats (28-4, 17-1 SoCon) vs. #3 College of Charleston Cougars (22-10, 13-5)

Starting Lineups

Davidson Charleston
G Jason Richards, Junior G Dontaye Draper, Senior
G Stephen Curry, Freshman G Marcus Hammond, Sophomore
F Max Paulhus-Gosselin, Sophomore C Philip McCandies, Senior
F Thomas Sander, Junior F David Lawrence, Senior
F Boris Meno, Junior F Jermaine Johnson, Sophomore

Coaches

Bob McKillop, Davidson – McKillop is in his eighteenth season as the head coach of the Wildcats, and this year has arguably been his finest effort ever. He’s already been recognized as the 2007 Southern Conference Coach of the Year. And why not? The Wildcats lost seven seniors from last year’s NCAA Tournament team and were subsequently picked to finish fourth in their half of the conference heading into this season. McKillop and company scoffed at such a notion in the form of posting a 17-1 record in Southern Conference play and earning the #1 seed for this tournament. McKillop is looking for his fourth NCAA Tournament bid (1998, 2002, 2006).

Bobby Cremins, College of Charleston – In just his first season as head man at the College of Charleston, Cremins has the Cougars in the Southern Conference Championship for the first time since 2000. That’s the same year Cremins retired from Georgia Tech, where he led the Yellow Jackets to three ACC Tournament titles and one Final Four Appearance in 1990. Ironically, Cremins landed the job at Charleston only after Winthrop’s Gregg Marshall accepted the job and then abruptly about-faced. Cremins did the same in 1993 with Georgia Tech, as he bolted for South Carolina but returned to the Jackets three days later. The only place Cremins will be going if the Cougars win on Sunday is the NCAA Tournament.

How They Got Here

Davidson defeated UT-Chattanooga 78-68 in the quarterfinals. The Cats sleepwalked through the first half before star freshman Stephen Curry woke up in the second frame to help Davidson escape. Davidson defeated Furman 91-68 in the semi-finals that was a blowout pretty much from the beginning. Curry poured in 30 points on 9-of-14 shooting (6-of-10 from beyond the arc) while Jason Richards added 20 points and seven assists

College of Charleston defeated Georgia Southern 77-66 in the quarterfinals. After a lackluster first half, the Cougars blew by the Eagles in the last 20 minutes. College of Charleston defeated Appalachian State 89-87 in an instant classic semi-final, all but blasting the Mountaineer hopes of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Senior Dantaye Draper turned in a performance for the ages, drilling eight thee-pointers en route to scoring 38 points and single-handedly carrying the Cougars to victory in overtime with two of the team’s big men already fouled out.

Previous Meetings
January 6 at Davidson: Davidson 81, College of Charleston 73
February 12 at College of Charleston: Davidson 73, College of Charleston 63

Keys to the Game

Davidson – Curry has started slow in each of Davidson’s first two tournament games, with nerves clearly affecting him in the quarters and foul trouble sidelining him against Furman. He was the Freshman Player of the Year in the conference and narrowly missed out on outright player of the year to UNC-Greensboro’s Kyle Hines. Sure to face a hostile pro-Charleston crowd, Curry will have to come out much stronger in order to take the Cougar faithful out of the game.

Point guard Jason Richards, a first-team All-Southern Conference selection, just needs to keep doing what he has been doing. Richards is second in the nation in assists, can score in bunches when necessary from both from long range and by slashing to the basket, and is the absolute glue of this offense.

Charleston – Draper will most likely have to produce another out-of-this world performance. He has been the guy all season for the Cougars and while his supporting cast is solid, Draper has not been receiving loads of help on a consistent basis. Forwards Jermaine Johnson and David Lawrence will have to shoulder some of the scoring load even if Draper goes off once again. Both teams must stay out of foul trouble, but Davidson is the much deeper team, so this is especially critical for the Cougars.

Decisive Matchup

You can bet Wildcat defensive specialist Max Paulhus-Gosselin will be hounding Draper all day. If he gets the upper hand in this matchup throughout the day, the Cougars will have little to no chance at pulling off the upset. Davidson played incredible defense against Furman (especially in limiting the Paladins to 15 first half points), so Bobby Cremins will have to come up with a way to beat Paulhus-Gosselin and the rest of the Wildcat wall. It certainly won’t be easy, so the Cougars will have to be patient and wait to pull the trigger until they find good looks at the basket.

Decisive Factor

Davidson has to be feeling good about taking care of business with ease earlier in the evening, and then watching College of Charleston play an epic thriller. Not only did it go into overtime, but it was one of the most emotionally-draining conference semi-finals I’ve ever seen.

If any team can recover from such a game in less than 24 hours, the Cougars are not it. They’ve been going just seven deep the entire year and that will not change in the midst of the conference tournament. Cremins will go with what got him here, whether they have gas in the tank or not.

Davidson will try to lure the Cougars into playing as hectic of a pace as took place throughout the Charleston-Appalachian game. Charleston, meanwhile, will have to slow things down and keep everything under control.

Charleston must use the energy of the hometown crowd to spur them on to a good start. If the Cougars fall behind early, it will tough to come back. The Wildcats have absolutely worn teams down in the second halves of games this season, and they have a good chance of doing the same to the Cougars—especially if the Cougars find themselves trailing to begin with.

Prediction Davidson 79, College of Charleston 74

–Rick Dimon

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