Exhibitions are not supposed to be this exciting.
The College of Charleston jumped out to a big second-half lead but had to hold off a tenacious rally from Armstrong Atlantic State to finally put away the Pirates, 58-55, at TD Arena on Friday.
The Cougars led their only exhibition game of the season throughout, and used a 13-0 early in the second half to push the lead out to 15 points and bring the small but vocal crowd back into the game. But the Pirates battled back with a stifling half-court trap that cut the gap to a single point with less than a minute to play.
Seeing the lead and the game in the balance, however, Jillian Brown hit two free throws that sealed the victory.
“I thought it was a great game for us,” head coach Nancy Wilson told cofcsports.com after the game. “It was exactly what we needed. We got to play well in a spurt and we had to protect the ball down the stretch and come out with a win. I saw some good things from the freshman also, which I was happy about.”
Wilson’s four new freshmen will be crucial to the success of a team that is playing without a single senior on the roster, and only three juniors. The Cougars are also coping with the transfer of their leading scorer and rebounder from last season.
Janae Smith, who led the team with 12.1 points and 6.4 boards a game last season, transferred to Illinois State of the Missouri Valley Conference. Tonia Gerty, who was last season’s second-leading scorer with 10.1 points a game and led the team with 109 assists, graduated. Without Smith and Gerty, the Cougars leading returning scorer is Megan Fischer, who averaged 7.8 a game last season.
Fischer led the Cougars with 16 points on 5-of-13 shooting, and also added seven rebounds. Fellow junior Latisha Harris just missed a double-double with 14 points and nine boards. Sophomore Alyssa Frye had 11 points.
Among the freshmen, Christy Hewatt scored seven points on 3-of-6 shooting, and 6-foot, 5-inch Mikaela Hopkins grabbed seven rebounds in 13 minutes. While Hopkins was only credited with two blocks, her imposing frame and long wingspan cause havoc in the post as the smaller Pirates were forced to try to shoot around or over the rangy center.
While there were positives for the young Cougars, including out-rebounding their Peach Belt Conference foes by 15, one ugly stat jumps out of the box score: 26 total turnovers. For a team that averaged more than 19 turnovers a game last season, that had to have been a disappointment.
“When I look at our stats, we did well in every category,” Wilson said. “Unfortunately we led in turnovers as well. I would say turnovers and working against their press would be the area we would look at this game and need to improve on.”
The Cougars open the regular season at home on Friday when they host East Carolina at TD Arena at 5 p.m. The Pirates were 16-15 last season, with a 9-7 mark in Conference USA.