Southern Conference Recap
by David Smotherman
Since we last danced “the Charleston”
A lot has happened since a rainy night in Charleston when the Davidson Wildcats outlasted an upset-minded Furman Paladin squad 62-57 in the finals of the Southern Conference championships.
The SoCon placed two teams in post-season tournaments and both represented the conference well. Although they did not make it to the SoCon finals, University of North Carolina – Greensboro’s record and strength of schedule were strong enough for the Spartans to be selected to the NIT, drawing a first round game against the University of Memphis.
In the game, played in front of a near capacity crowd at the Pyramid in Memphis, a combination of speed and home court advantage were just too much to overcome for the Spartans. UNCG managed to keep the score under double digits at the half (37-29), but the Tigers came out in the second and slow pulled away, ultimately leading by as many as 26. Senior David Schuck led the Spartans with 15 points. The game was UNCG’s first ever NIT appearance in its 11 year D-1 history, the Spartans participated in the NCAA’s in 1996 and 2001, and also marked the first time in school history that the Spartans have participated in back-to-back postseason play. Memphis continued through the NIT field and went on to defeat South Carolina 72-62 to win the NIT Championship at Madison Square Garden.
In NCAA tournament action, Davidson earned a 13 seed in their 7th NCAA tournament and a game against Big Ten Champion Ohio State at “The Pit” in Albuquerque.
Davidson, sporting a 3-2 record lifetime against Ohio State, entered the game knowing that the upset was possible and proved the point by taking the lead 3-1/2 minutes into the game, and holding it until Brian Brown made the last shot before the half, giving Ohio State a 33-32 halftime lead. The second half was a continuation of the first with neither team being able to sustain a large run. Peter Anderer’s 3 pointer with 35 seconds left pulled Davidson to within one point, but Ohio State was able to make their free throws in the closing seconds and secured the 69-64 win. Senior center Martin Ides led the ‘Cats with 20 points. Ohio State was then upset in the second round by Missouri.
SoCon Players in the Pros
The Southern Conference had a banner year in placing in placing 11 seniors in the professional leagues of Europe and the USA.
Chattanooga -Toot Young (Europe), Neil Ashby (Allocated to the NBDL)
Charleston – Jeff Bolton (Allocated to the NBDL)
Davidson – Emeka Erege, Chris Pearson, Michael Bree, Fernando Tonella, and Martin Ides (Europe)
Georgia Southern – Sean Peterson (USBL, Allocated to the NBDL) Kashien Latham (USBL)
Greensboro – David Schuck (Europe)
New faces pace the boards
While two head coaching changes were expected during the off-season, one came as a shock to not only the SoCon, but to the entire East Coast.
Richard Johnson at Wofford was a given. It was announced at the beginning of the 2001-02 season that it was to be his last as head coach of the Terriers before taking the position of Athletic Director at the college. It was also a relatively sure bet that Chattanooga coach Henry Dickerson would not be retained after the Mocs first round loss in the SoCon tournament.
What came as the real shocker was that long-time College of Charleston coach John Kresse, a legend on the East Coast, had decided to retire from basketball. Kresse, who became the Cougars’ head coach in March of 1979, retired with a record of 560 wins and 143 losses, along with the second highest winning percentage among active coaches (.797). He led ‘Cougs to the nation’s second best winning percentage over the past nine seasons (.821, 220-48). His teams won at least 21 games the past nine years, and 18 times in 23 years overall.
As for the new coaches, Wofford replaced Johnson with 13-year Terrier assistant coach Mike Young. It is his first head coaching assignment. Young is a 1986 graduate of Emory & Henry College, where he was a four-year letterman in basketball.
CofC searched extensively and decided on University of Virginia assistant Tom Herrion. It is also Herrion’s first head coaching position. He was previously the assistant coach at Merrimack College, Providence and Virginia. Herrion served eight seasons as a UVA assistant to coach Pete Gillen. Herrion also spent four seasons as an assistant coach on Gillen’s staff at Providence College. At his alma mater, Merrimack, he helped coach the school to two NCAA D-2 championships.
And in what was probably the biggest news of the spring, Chattanooga hired former ACC star point guard Jeff Lebo, and his entire staff, away from Tennessee Tech. Lebo was an assistant at ETSU under Alan LeForce, and at Vanderbilt and South Carolina under Eddie Fogler before taking over as head coach at Tech. In four years with the Golden Eagles, Lebo transformed a 10-win team into back-to-back OVC regular season champions, culminating in a 27 win season and an Elite 8 run in the 2002 NIT before losing a close game to the eventual champions in Memphis.
Other SoCon news from the summer
Elon has been chosen to replace VMI when the Keydets leave for the Big South Conference at the end of the 2002-03 season.
The Southern Conference offices have moved from its long-time home in Asheville (NC) to Spartanburg (SC).
And finally, Davidson and Chattanooga will switch division in the 2002-03 season. The North division will be Appalachian State, Chattanooga, East Tennessee, Elon, UNC-Greensboro, and Western Carolina and the South division will be Charleston, Davidson, Furman, Georgia Southern, The Citadel, and Wofford.