Coming off a dominating road victory at Furman on Friday night, the College of Charleston laid an egg against Gardner-Webb University on Monday evening at TD Arena, dropping their home opener, 80-67.
After loud pre-game introductions got the capacity student section excited, G-W jumped out to an early 12-4 lead on back-to-back three pointers from guard Jarvis Davis. Charleston’s freshmen, forward Donovan Gilmore and guard Cameron Johnson, got the Cougars right back in the game, with Johnson converting on a four-point play to take a 13-12 lead.
The Cougars’ one and only lead would last all of 21 seconds, as Gardner-Webb would capitalize on a four-plus minute drought from the field by Charleston. Luckily, the Runnin’ Bulldogs were not much better and the game remained tight thanks to forward Adjehi Baru, who jump started the crowd with an emphatic tip-slam to close the gap to two.
Charleston used a 7-0 run to even the score at 28 with sophomore guard Canyon Barry scoring four points and assisting on an Anthony Stitt three ball. Aside from an earlier dunk in the first half, it proved to be Barry’s best stretch of basketball as he struggled for a majority of the evening.
Gardner-Webb took a 32-31 lead into the break.
The second half of play began with multiple missed layups and poor defense by the Cougars and the Bulldogs went on an extended 20-3 run to open up a 52-34 lead with just over 12 minutes remaining.
Down 18, Charleston went on a 9-0 run of their own to narrow the deficit to 52-43. The Cougars hung around for the next five minutes of play, but would get no closer than eight on a four-point play by guard Joe Chealey with four minutes remaining.
“I’m really disappointed. We had a great crowd tonight and I really wish we could have won that game for the crowd,” head coach Earl Grant said. “I was disappointed in our interior defense and our toughness around the basket, they scored too many paint baskets. We need to do a better job protecting the rim.”
Chealey led the Cougars with 17 points, while Baru turned in a 10-point, 12 rebound double double. Gilmore, who was named CAA rookie of the week, also notched a double double (10 points and 11 rebounds).
Charleston now heads to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament in San Juan with a date with the defending national champions, Connecticut, on Thursday afternoon. It will be the second consecutive season playing the defending champions for the Cougars, having lost at University of Louisville in November 2013.
“It’ll be fun, it’s our second year in a row playing the national champs,” Chealey said. “We’re not backing down from anybody. We played Louisville tough last year until the last five minutes and we hope to do the same against UConn. We know they have talented guys and they’ll be prepared and won’t take us lightly.”
Tip-off against UConn is set for 12:30 p.m. on Thursday and will be broadcast on ESPNU and the WatchESPN app. The Cougars will face either Texas A&M or Dayton in game two on Friday.