Victory comes as no surprise to Cougars Win is upset only in eyes of those who seed tourney

March 14, 1997|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- There were all sorts of commentators saying all sorts of nice things about the scourge of the Trans America Athletic Conference, and the kind of exposure that money can't buy in the form of a full-page spread in USA Today.

The compliments and coverage were welcome, but nothing will earn respect for a team from the depths of Division I like knocking off a major-conference power in the NCAA tournament. Then again, was the College of Charleston's 75-66 dismantling of Maryland last night really an upset?

"Well, they're in the Atlantic Coast Conference and we're in the Trans America," said Thaddeous Delaney, the senior center who's as imposing as 6-foot-8 players come. "According to the NCAA, they're a better team because of the seed they gave us."

Answer the question, Thad. Was it an upset?

"Nope," Delaney said. "We expected to win."

No program in the nation has had fewer losses than Charleston over the past four years, but the Cougars were lacking in landmark wins, mainly because the cognoscenti understand that best to avoid coach John Kresse and his program.

There was a win over nationally ranked Georgia Tech four years ago, but Delaney said that a much-honored senior class' previous claim to fame was beating Tennessee in the first round of the NIT last year.

"I don't want to knock the NIT, but I think this is more prestigious," Delaney said. "I know that a lot of teams are looking out for us now."

With Princeton out of the way, the Cougars are this year's threat to become the sixth No. 12 seed to reach the Sweet 16 since 1989. It doesn't sound like a team that will be satisfied just to get to the second round.

"Our point will be made if we can win a few more games," Delaney said. "If we can do that, then we can make a statement."

The Cougars are a ray of sunshine for the top of the Delta, which is awash in fear and loathing over a swollen Mississippi River that next week could rise as high as it has been in 60 years. The Pyramid was never more than half full yesterday, but Charleston made its presence felt on the court and in the stands, as the Cougars brought at least four times as many fans as the Terps.

After he shook hands with Maryland coach Gary Williams, Kresse saluted the fans.

"Our fans are the greatest in the world," said guard Anthony Johnson, the TAAC Player of the Year. "The other schools, they're in the tournament year in and year out. Their fans are waiting for the Sweet 16 or the Elite Eight."

The Charleston fans took nothing for granted, but they also figured that their Cougars were not your standard No. 12 seed. That low number pointed to a fallacy in the Ratings Percentage Index, the comparative tool used by the NCAA, which is based on strength of schedule more than anything.

Despite its late-season slide, Maryland's stock in the computer printouts didn't take a severe dip, because the Terps were still getting credit for playing the Wake Forests and North Carolinas of the ACC.

Charleston extended the nation's longest win streak to 23 games, but 16 of those wins came in the TAAC, and the Cougars' RPI actually dipped as they were beating up on the Mercers, Central Floridas and Stetsons of the world the past two months.

"We're not really Rodney Dangerfield, we're for real," Kresse said. "It's a tremendous moment in the life of the program and the college. We've gotten a little publicity the last few days and we came through in a tremendous pressure cooker. All the publicity wasn't easy to accept.

"The seniors fly the Concorde, while I serve the chips and Cokes."

The Cougars' four senior starters were airborne last night. Delaney intimidated the Terps with six blocks. Johnson had 17 points and nine assists. Rodney Conner had a game-high 11 rebounds, and Stacy Harris, the other forward, had a game-high 22 points.

"There were so many opportunities this year and the last few years that we let slip away," Harris said. "But tonight, we had an incredible finish."

It's not over yet, as the Cougars face Arizona, a 65-57 winner over South Alabama, in the second round tomorrow.

"It's a dream season," Delaney said, "and I don't want it to end."

Pub Date: 3/14/97

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