In coach-speak, every game on the schedule is of equal importance. But there's no question that the College of Charleston's next two games, starting tonight at Davidson's Belk Arena, are crucial to the Cougars' hopes of winning a Southern Conference men's basketball title or securing a tournament bye.
Davidson, the preseason favorite to win the SoCon South Division, is living up to its expectations at 6-0 in the league and 12-4 overall. The Cougars are two games behind the Wildcats at 4-2, the same as Saturday's opponent, Georgia Southern.
Finishing in the top two in the division is of vital importance since those teams both receive first-round tournament byes. And
no team has won the Southern Conference tournament without a bye since the league went to its two-division format.
"I think our players know the conference and they know the big picture," said Cougars coach Bobby Cremins. "They know the tournament is the most important thing. And they know we've got to hang in there together. They know the big prize comes in the end, and that's the automatic (NCAA) bid at the tournament. We'll see how they respond."
Charleston responded well to its most recent adversity by hammering Elon. That came two days after a stunning home loss to UNC Greensboro that was compounded by the loss of freshman guard Anthony Stitt for approximately six weeks because of a broken hand.
"We realized in some of the earlier games we didn't play as hard as we possibly could play all 40 minutes," said senior forward Antwaine Wiggins, who is second in the conference with 16.5 points per game but has averaged about 11 points in the last four Cougars games.
"We have to keep playing like we did in the Elon game, a hard 40 minutes of basketball, and not give up easy shots and play good defense. We lost some games we shouldn't have lost, but that helps us from getting complacent. We have to play hard every game no matter who we're playing."
Cremins said the Cougars are like a new team after losing Stitt, who had just moved into the starting lineup in place of sophomore Jordan Scott. Sophomore Nori Johnson got the start against Elon, and freshman Trevonte Dixon also got plenty of playing time against the Phoenix.
The most pleasant surprises against Elon were the Cougars' two big men, freshman Adjehi Baru who got his first double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds, and sophomore Trent Wiedeman, who had 10 points and a career high 17 rebounds.
"That was fun to watch, to see the two bigs play well," Cremins said. "I was really proud of our defensive effort against Elon. We're continuing to experiment and continuing to have new roles.
"It's going to be a test. We've had some great games against Davidson. I'm really looking forward to it. I really hope we respond."
--Tonight's game will not be televised locally, but can be viewed on ESPN3.com.
--The College of Charleston has won four of its last six meetings with Davidson, but the Wildcats have won two of the last three, including a 75-64 win last season at Belk Arena.