It’s funny how just one win- at the right time- can change the perspective of an entire season.
After a bumpy regular season, the College of Charleston got its’ biggest win of the year on Friday night, defeating Drexel, 56-48, in the first round of the 2015 CAA Tournament. It was the Cougars’ first CAA Tournament victory in their second season as members of the conference.
The Cougars headed into halftime with a five-point deficit, but came out of the locker room in the second half with newfound energy.
After Drexel pushed their lead to six to start the second frame, it was senior guard Anthony Stitt who found his touch at the most crucial point in the season. Stitt scored seven straight points to give the Cougars their first lead with 9:31 remaining in the game.
The Dragons would briefly take the lead back by a basket before Joe Chealey tied the game and Canyon Barry secured the lead for good with four straight points with two minutes to play.
“I’m really proud of my guys,” head coach Earl Grant said. “We went into the game wanting to be aggressive and wanting to get after [Drexel] defensively as well as offensively. We executed the game plan by attacking the paint and getting to the free throw line. I thought my guys did an excellent job sharing the ball. It was great to see.”
Grant showed an extensive full-court press for much of the evening, something that the Cougars have not done much of this season. But the first-year head coach had his reasons, the Dragons were playing with just seven players and no reserve guards due to injuries, specifically to leading scorer Damion Lee.
“[Drexel] usually only plays with about eight guys, so I didn’t think it would be much different. I did want to get after them defensively. Our guys did a great job of picking them up full court and making it hard for them all night,” Grant said.
Barry led Charleston with 19 points and Chealey added 11. Charleston made it to the free throw line 24 times in this game, with Barry finishing 7-7 from the stripe.
“Coach Grant stressed at all our practices leading up to this tournament how important it would be to drive the ball,” Barry said. “With their limited depth, foul trouble hurts them so our whole team focused on finishing in the paint.”
The Cougars now advance to the quarterfinal round of the tournament, facing UNC Wilmington on Saturday evening at 6 p.m. Charleston went 0-2 against the Seahawks in the regular season, but did force overtime when UNCW visited TD Arena in January. UNCW is the No. 2 seed in the tournament, as they finished tied for first place with a 12-6 CAA record.