After winning their first ever CAA Tournament game on Friday, the College of Charleston dropped their quarterfinal matchup with second-seeded UNC Wilmington, 79-53, on Saturday night in Baltimore, Md.
The Cougars’ energy from Friday’s win over Drexel spilled over into the first half against UNCW. Charleston jumped up 4-0 in the first minute of play and the Cougars seemed to have a pep in their step.
Joe Chealey came out firing, scoring seven of the Cougars’ first nine points of the ballgame. Chealey continued to produce throughout the first half, leading all scorers with 11 points at halftime.
With UNCW leading by three with just over eight minutes remaining in the first half, the Seahawks went on a 7-0 run to push their lead to double figures.
Charleston closed the gap to six with four minutes left in the first period, but UNCW extended back to a 11-point lead at halftime. Canyon Barry nearly closed the deficit eight, but his potential buzzer beating three was ruled to have left his hands after the horn sounded.
The Cougars got the UNCW lead down to nine immediately to start the second half, but the Seahawks responded with a monster run to take full control of the game. UNCW extended their lead with a 14-0 run as Charleston struggled to find any rhythm on the offensive end.
UNCW scored 16 points off 12 Charleston turnovers, mostly involving full court press by the Seahawks, something the Cougars executed well themselves on Friday night against Drexel.
“Their press bothered us,” head coach Earl Grant said. “We had opportunities during the game where we could have scored some layups and we turned it over. A lot of our decision making wasn’t what it had to be.”
Chealey finished with 12 points and both Barry and Cameron Johnson added nine points each. Anthony Stitt scored eight points and Adjehi Baru tallied eight rebounds, both in their final game for the Cougars.
“I personally need to do a better job remaining poised and making the right decision [in the press],” Chealey said. “As the point guard and as the lead guard on the floor, I didn’t do a good enough job with that.”
The loss ended a tumulus season for the Cougars, but not one without promise for the future. Grant will get a full offseason to work on his program for next season and will welcome his first recruiting class in the fall, neither of which he was able to do prior to this season.
Charleston will have Chealey and Barry, the team’s leading scorers, back in the starting lineup next season, along with impact role players Donovan Gilmore, Evan Bailey and Johnson.
Some more hope? UNCW went from worst to first between last season and this season with much of the same roster. Experience in the CAA matters and the Cougars made strides this season, evident by their tournament win over Drexel, which is something Grant can build on with his squad heading into 2015-2016.