James Madison at College of Charleston
WHEN: 7 p.m. WHERE: TD Arena
RECORDS: CofC 8-7, 0-0 in CAA; James Madison 6-9, 1-0
TV/RADIO: CSS / WTMZ 910-AM. LINE: Charleston by 71/2
NOTES: The Cougars are coming off a 60-50 victory over Howard on Saturday. . Willis Hall, who was named the CAA Player of the Week, for the second straight week, finished with 18 points and 17 rebounds against Howard. It was his third straight double-double of the season. . Adjehi Baru had a double-double as well, going for 12 points and 10 rebounds. . James Madison has won three straight games as well. The Dukes will also return Andre Nation, a sophomore, was suspended for the first 15 games of the season for violation of school athletic department policy. Nation averaged more than nine points a game a year ago.
On the schedule, it looks like just another basketball game. Only Tuesday's matchup is not just another game on so many different levels.
The College of Charleston begins a new era in Cougars basketball at TD Arena, playing its first game as a member of the Colonial Athletic Association. The Cougars, who had been in the Southern Conference since 1998, joined the CAA to get more exposure for the school's basketball program.
Not only will it be the first CAA game for the Cougars, it comes against James Madison, the defending conference tournament champion. And then there's an appearance by country music star and Hootie & The Blowfish co-founder Darius Rucker, who will sing the national anthem before the game.
"It's a conference game, so that makes it more important, so of course it matters a lot to us," said Cougars senior forward Willis Hall. "Conference games are the most important games of the year, but at the same time we're going to prepare for this game like we've prepared for every game all season."
It's a sentiment shared by College of Charleston head coach Doug Wojcik.
"It's exciting because it's a new era for our program," Wojcik said. "It's a lot of firsts against James Madison, but at the same time it's our next game and that's what makes it important. I'll be honest, having Darius Rucker and all the other stuff isn't any more of a distraction for the players. I just think it's that much more of a reason to be excited about playing.
"If I was a player, it would just be another motivating factor for me. My approach doesn't change. I have to be consistent. It's a big game, but it's not different than the Coker game."
After an up-and-down two months, the Cougars (8-7) seem to have settled into their roles of late. Charleston has won three straight games, including a 76-64 victory at Davidson on New Year's Day.
No player is hotter in the CAA than Hall, who was named the conference player of the week for the second straight time, and has posted a double-double in each of the last three games. The 6-6 senior had the first 20-20 night in Cougars history when he recorded career highs in points (26) and rebounds (21) in the win over Davidson. Hall followed that up with an 18-point, 17-rebound performance in the Cougars' 60-50 win over Howard on Saturday.
"I had a kid at Tulsa that led Conference USA in scoring, and he scored 30-plus points in three straight games," Wojcik said. "But I don't know that I've been around a player that has been on a streak like Willis. It's not just making shots. It's his absolute phenomenal effort along with skill that has been most impressive. He's been great. He brings it to every practice and every game. He's a coach's dream."
The Cougars will face an equally hot James Madison team. The Dukes (6-9) have won three straight and welcome back sophomore guard Andre Nation, the team's leading returning scorer from a year ago.
Nation, who averaged 9.3 points and 3.1 rebounds, was suspended for 15 games for violating "athletic department" policy.
"Obviously we haven't seen any film on Nation this year, but we went back and looked at last year's film, and he's a very good player," Wojcik said. "He's certainly going to help them."
The Cougars will be without shooting guard Canyon Barry for the second straight game. Barry, a freshman, broke a finger on his shooting hand against Davidson. The 6-6 freshman is expected to be out two to four weeks. As a result, senior Nori Johnson will see more playing time along with sophomore forward Theo Johnson.
"It's just the next man up for us," Wojcik said. "A guy goes out and the next guy has to step up. It's an opportunity for those players to get more minutes and have a bigger role on the team."