SoCon Title Game Had Irony but Lacked Drama
ASHEVILLE, N.C.—When Colonial Athletic Association Commissioner Tom Yeager contacted Davidson and College of Charleston last spring, he probably didn't anticipate the two being in the Southern Conference championship game in early-March, but that's exactly what transpired.
The College of Charleston accepted Yeager's offer, which begins in 2014, while Davidson decided to remain in its current affiliation of the Southern Conference rather than jump ship with CofC.
As it would play out, College of Charleston would make it official in late November, meaning the 2012-13 basketball season would be the final for the Cougars as a league member. As fate would have it, Monday night's title game would be decided by the two teams on differing sides of Yeager's offer. One in College of Charleston, who decided to jump at Yeager's offer, while Davidson was the school that decided to remain loyal, at least for the time being, to the tradition-rich conference.
While the backdrop certainly had some interesting drama, Monday night's championship game between No. 1 Davidson and No. 3 seed College of Charleston lacked much drama, with Davidson claiming its 17th win in a row and 12th Southern Conference crown, with a 74-55 win over the Cougars at the US Cellular Center.
The win by the Wildcats marks the seventh league championship the Cougars have claimed under the direction of 23-year veteran head coach Bob McKillop, including a sixth tournament title since 2002.
The Wildcats, who entered the season as heavy favorites to claim the league's regular season and tournament title after their epic, 93-91, double-overtime win against Western Carolina last season, lived up to both preseason billings with that experienced starting five that returned intact from the 2012 title run last season.
For the SoCon, it at least seems a victory in what has become a battle for conferences at both the mid-major and major levels to retain members. The Wildcats, a charter member of the SoCon,who left and returned to the nation's fifth-oldest conference in 1992-93, is the program by which to be measured in the Southern Conference, and in many respects, outside Gonzaga and Butler, nationally among mid-major programs.
The College of Charleston, who contributed plenty to the league durings its 15 years as a member, had a chance to bring things full circle on Monday night with a win over the Wildcats. After all, the Cougars posted one of the best wire-to-wire runs in the history of the Southern Conference in their first season (1998-99) under the direction of legendary head coach John Kresse, finishing 28-3 overall, and a perfect 18-0 (regular-season and tournament) against league foes, looking dominant en route to lifting the SoCon's most-coveted prize on the hardwood.
Few would have guessed that would be the last time that the Cougars would lift the SoCon's penultimate prize, however, under Kresse, Bobby Cremins, Tom Herrion and Doug Wojcik, the Cougars would go 0-5 in championship games following that first trip.
But the night was about Davidson, and in particular, De'Mon Brooks, who for the second year in a row, who simply spectacular. Brooks poured in 24 points and grabbed eight boards, as he picked right up where he left off against Appalachian State in that classic semifinal matchup last night, which saw him post 16 points and three boards en route to the 65-62, heart-stopping victory over the Mountaineers. With his performances in three games for the Wildcats this weekend, Brooks garnered the tournament's Most Valuable Performer for the second-straight season.
Brooks was one of four Wildcats in double figures in Monday night's win, as he was joined in double digits by J.P. Kuhlman (14 pts), Jake Cohen (12 pts) and Chris Czerapowicz (10 pts).
Kuhlman, Cohen and Nik Cochran are a trio of players that had maybe as much pressure on them as any trio of players in the history of mid-major college basketball history. The class asked to follow an act such as the class asked to follow that Tony Skinn-led George Mason club that went all the way to the Final Four in 2006, or the Butler teams that went to back-to-back championships in 2010 and '11, and even the VCU run to the Final Four led by Joey Rodriguez in 2011.
That's exactly what Kuhlman, Cohen and Cochran were asked to do, and after bowing out of the SoConTournament in the opening round in both 2010 and '11, the senior class which followed the great Stephen Curry and that 2008 team that made that epic Elite Eight run in 2008, finished out its final two seasons at Davidson finishing a combined 39-3 two-year run against SoCon competition in the regular-season and tournament, including a pair of two tournament titles and regular season crowns in their junior and senior seasons.
That 39-3 mark over two seasons is just two games off the pace of that 43-1 mark by that Jason Richards' senior class, which included junior Stephen Curry, who went on to be a Lottery Pick in the NBA Draft after that amazing '08 run, in a two-season run. That's not too shabby, considering how talented those teams were.
College of Charleston was paced in the game by summer Olympian Andrew Lawrence, as the Great Britain national team guard did his thing for his college team on Monday night, with 19 points to lead the club. Forward Adjehi Baru was the only other Cougar player in double figures on the evening, posting 11 points.
The Cougars were held to season lows of 29.8-percentage (17-for-57) from the field in the title game loss, and 10-percent (1-for-10) from three-point range.
Davidson, meanwhile, knocked down 54.9-percent (28-for-51) from the field, including 68.6 percent (24-for-35) inside the paint, which led to a 42-24 advantage in the points in the paint category.
The College of Charleston joined Marshall as one of the SoCon teams in the modern era of the league to make the championship game only to bow out lose at the final hurdle. In 1997, the Thundering Herd dropped a 71-70 overtime decision to Chattanooga in the SoCon championship game before joining the Mid-American Conference the very next season, which ironically, would help make room for the Cougars to join the SoCon.
After Davidson went up by 12 (38-26) early in the second half following a Kuhlman trey to open the scoring for the Wildcats, the Cougars would score six-straight to seemingly get back into the game, cutting the Wildcats' lead in half (38-32) on a Baru bucket with 18:07 remaining, however, that is as close as the game would be for the remainder of the proceedings, as time and time again, the Wildcats would used an inside-out approach, centered around Brooks, which helped the Wildcats maintain a near-double digit lead over the final 11 minutes of the game.
The Wildcats would maintain an eight-11 point lead over the final 11 minutes of the game, and would eventually charge back to a double-digit lead with a Brooks lay-up at the 7:47 mark of the second half, as the Wildcats went ahead, 61-50. Jake Belford's lay-up with 1:40 to play gave Davidson its largest lead of the evening, at 74-53, before eventually closing out the game with a 74-55 win.
Davidson's dominance can be proven by the fact that it is just one of four clubs to have won a SoContitle since 2002, joining Wofford (two), East Tennessee State (two) and Chattanooga (two) as winners of the league's postseason tournament. Davidson's fourth SoCon title in the last seven seasons is the best since Chattanooga won four titles in five seasons from 1993-97 under the direction of Mack McCarthy.
College of Charleston finishes the season at 24-10, and now awaits its future postseason tournament fate, while Davidson will have to wait a little less than a week and "Selection Sunday" to find out its first-round opponent for the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Last year, the Wildcats battled before dropping a hard-fought 69-62 loss to eventual Final Four qualifier Louisville last season.
The win for Davidson was their 17th-straight win, improving their mark of 26-7 overall on the campaign.
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