Instead of practicing at TD Arena’s 5,100-seat facility Tuesday afternoon, the College of Charleston basketball team used a small auxiliary gym — used primarily by the volleyball team — and blared hip-hop music from a loudspeaker as the Cougars prepared for one of college basketball’s most unique atmospheres.
The Cougars travel up Interstate 26 today to face crosstown rival Charleston Southern at 7:30 p.m.
It will be the first time in two decades that the Cougars have played Charleston Southern at Buccaneer Field House, which is more affectionately known as the Buc Dome. Since 1992, the teams have played at the North Charleston Coliseum when the Bucs were the host team.
Since joining Division I, the Cougars have refused to play on the North Charleston campus. The two teams are in the final year of their contract and the Bucs decided to move the game back to the Buc Dome.
While the Buc Dome is the nation’s smallest Division I basketball facility — its capacity is just under 1,000 — it has held a significant home court advantage for CSU over the past three years. The Bucs are 36-9 at home since 2009.
“When we played the game at the North Charleston Coliseum it was really a neutral court,” said Charleston Southern basketball coach Barclay Radebaugh. “We feel like we’ve got a real home-court advantage that we have not been able to use over the years. It’s a small gym, but we’ve got great fan support and it’s a great environment to play in.”
The Bucs plan to bring in extra bleachers to increase the capacity to just over 1,000, and more than 95 percent of the crowd will be Charleston Southern students and fans. College of Charleston got only a handful of tickets — 50, according to College of Charleston athletic officials — for the game.
“There’s not going to be much maroon in the building,” said College of Charleston guard Andrew Lawrence. “I’ve never played there before. I know it’s a small place, but I expect it’s going to be a pretty hostile crowd. They’ll be right on top of us. I’m excited about it and looking forward to playing there.”
The College of Charleston normally doesn’t pipe in ear-popping music for practice, but Cougars coach Doug Wojcik felt it was necessary to help mirror the intimate surroundings of the Buc Dome. Two decades ago — the last time the Cougars played at the Buc Dome — the Cougars eked out a 72-69 overtime win. Last season, the Cougars escaped with a 70-68 victory at home.
“It’s going to be loud, we know that,” Wojcik said. “I’ve never been there before, so I don’t exactly know what to expect. I’ve been in loud buildings before, but I’ve always felt that some of the toughest places to play were smaller gyms where the fans were right on top of you.”
So far this season, the Cougars and Bucs have played in their share of hostile environments. The Bucs played at Arizona and Alabama, while the Cougars are coming off a win over nationally ranked Baylor in Waco, Texas, over the weekend.
“At the end of the day, players win games, not buildings,” Wojcik said.
The game features two excellent backcourts. The matchup between Lawrence and Cougars point guard Anthony Stitt against the Bucs’ Saah Nimley and Arlon Harper will be pivotal during the game.
“We’ve got a tremendous amount of confidence in our backcourt,” Radebaugh said. “They haven’t quite played up to expectations so far this season, but they’re working very hard and are getting better. They’ve proven they can get it done.”