College of Charleston, Davidson set for SoCon final tonight

College of Charleston's first-year head basketball coach Doug Wojcik leads Cougars into the SoCon championship game tonight at 7 p.m. (Wade Spees/File/postandcourier.com)

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The College of Charleston is a seven-point underdog for tonight’s clash with Davidson in the Southern Conference championship game, but both teams expect a down-to-the-wire battle for the NCAA Tournament bid that goes to the winner.

The Cougars (24-9) and Davidson (25-7) play at 7 p.m. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN2.

The College of Charleston is making its sixth appearance in the SoCon tournament finals and fourth since 2007. The winner will receive the SoCon’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Cougars last SoCon tournament title came in 1999, their first season in the league. This will be Charleston’s last SoCon game because the Cougars are leaving the conference for the Colonial Athletic Association.

This will be the third time the two teams have met this season with the Wildcats winning both games — 77-68 on Jan. 19 at Belk Arena in Davidson, N.C., and 75-59 on Feb. 14 at TD Arena.

“It’s always a fight when we play the College of Charleston,” said Davidson coach Bob McKillop. “The rivalry we’ve had over the years with the College of Charleston has been intense and the games we’ve played have been fantastic. We know it’s always going to be a battle to the end.”

In the first matchup, Davidson’s De’Mon Brooks scored 17 points and JP Kuhlman and Nik Cochran each added 15 points as four players finished in double figures for the Wildcats. The Wildcats’ depth, toughness and experience were full display as the Cougars were playing their fourth game in 10 days.

In the second game, SoCon Player of the Year Jake Cohen poured in a career-high 32 points. Despite the 16-point margin of victory for the Wildcats, the game was close in the second half. The turning point came when Charleston’s Trent Wiedeman rolled his ankle with about 10 minutes to play and the Wildcats, up by five points at the time, went on a 16-4 run to break the game open.

“We’ve played them tough two times,” said Charleston guard Andrew Lawrence. “The second game got away from us in the second half, but we were in both games. We’re confident if we play well we can beat them.”

Charleston is taking on a team with a pedigree that few teams in the SoCon can match. Davidson has won more SoCon titles (11) and been to more championship games (18) than any other team in the league’s history. The Wildcats are the defending champions and have won the tournament title four times since 2006.

The Cougars are 1-2 all-time against the Wildcats in the tournament. Charleston beat Davidson, 59-52, in the semifinals in 2009. The last time the two teams met in the finals was 2007 at the North Charleston Coliseum — a 72-65 Davidson victory. The Cougars were last in the SoCon finals in 2011, losing to Wofford, 77-67,

“This is what it’s about,” said College of Charleston coach Doug Wojcik. “I’ve been in Charleston 10 months and I know we value the rivalry we’ve got with Davidson. Davidson is a very good team. They’re deep, they’re the defending champs, they’re experienced. It has come down to the two best teams in the league. I’m hoping the third time will be our time.”

Lawrence doesn’t believe it will take a perfect game to beat the Wildcats.

“We just have to play hard and stick with our principles,” Lawrence said. “We have to play like we’ve been playing during the tournament. It’s going to be a tough, physical game, but it’s a challenge we’re looking forward too.”

Limiting Cohen’s looks at the basket will be a key for the Cougars.

“Jake is a great player, he really hurt us down in Charleston,” Hall said. “When he gets going, he’s tough to stop. He’s a tough match-up for any team. I think we learned some things in the first two games against him and hopefully we can do a better job (tonight).

“We don’t have long to prepare for them, but they don’t have a long time to prepare for us either. We’ve been here before. We’ve got guys on this team that played against Wofford two years ago and we’re going to draw on that experience. We played in the Charleston Classic earlier in the year and I think being in that tournament atmosphere is going to help us.”