ETSU-Charleston game leaves deep emotional contrast

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Either the College of Charleston pep band or the East Tennessee State pep band should have played Mariah Carey's "Emotions" Friday night.
   Both the Buccaneers and the Cougars were extremely emotional after playing maybe the best game in the history of the Southern Conference Tournament.
   Charleston defeated the Bucs in overtime 76-75 Friday night at the North Charleston Coliseum, and there were two totally different moods expressed in the interview room.
   As you probably know by now, the Bucs had a chance to win it in overtime. But ETSU's Tiras Wade had his shot blocked by Michael Benton to seal the deal for the Cougars.
   The blocked shot caused the Cougars to celebrate, and could only let the Bucs think about what might have been.
   In the interview room, College of Charleston head coach John Kresse called the victory "One of the greatest wins in Cougar basketball history."
   In that same room about 10 minutes later, ETSU head coach Ed DeChellis said. "This is the worst loss I've had at ETSU."
   The loss was one that caused a lot of heartache for ETSU. The Bucs had been riding an eight-game winning streak coming into the tournament, and were considered by a lot of experts to be the favorite going into the event.
   The loss was so upsetting to one ETSU player that he didn't attend the media interview session after he was scheduled to be in there.
   I have no problem with that, because who would want to talk after coming so close to advancing to the semifinals.
   On the other hand, Charleston had everything going in its favor. The Cougars were playing in front of the home folks, and they came in droves to support their team.
   I mean, it's as tough to win on the road in the Southern Conference as it is in any other league. And I believe the Cougars thrived on the emotion of the hometown fans to pull out the win.
   The game went back and forth in the final minutes of regulation, and was a nailbiter throughout the overtime. And both teams made plays in the final seconds of both periods.
   Jerald Fields came up with the amazing putback to send the game into overtime. Benton came up with the block to seal the deal for the Cougars.
   Both were big plays by great players, and there were a lot of great players in this game.
   Keep in mind that there were six champions in the Southern Conference this year. Davidson, ETSU and UNC-Greensboro tied for the title in the North Division, while Charleston, Chattanooga and Georgia Southern split the championship in the South Division.
   That means this contest had two champions going at each other in a quarterfinal-round game. That's about unheard of.
   The emotions of Friday night's win didn't carry over into Saturday, as the Cougars put together a lackluster effort in a loss to the surprising Furman Paladins.
   As for the Bucs, they have nothing to be ashamed of. Neither team deserved to lose that game Friday night, but somebody had to.
   ETSU was that team, but everybody knew it was a wide-open tournament going in. I mean, a division champion drawing College of Charleston in the quarterfinals just didn't seem right.
   I don't really think local basketball fans realize how tough the Southern Conference is. There are a lot of great players, and great teams in this league.
   I still believe ETSU might be the best team in the conference, and it is very deserving of having its season extended. I hope the NIT committee will look at the fact the Bucs won eight of their final nine games to close the season, and then give them a bid into that tournament.
   And the best thing about this team is that they didn't quit. The Bucs could have given up midway through the season when they were 3-5 in the SoCon, and they could have given up Friday night when they were down 15 points in the first half.
   The Bucs can be happy about their season, and about Friday night. When the odds were stacked against them, the Bucs never gave up.
   Since the Bucs didn't give up, don't give up on this team. ETSU has four starters coming back and DeChellis' prized recruit, Brad Nuckles, comes to town in the fall. I would be very surprised if a quarterfinal-round loss happens again, but I do expect another North Division championship.
   Tune in around the middle of November to find out what happens.