This past Friday, the College of Charleston men’s basketball team had its season come to a close.
As heartbreaking as this ending may have been, it is important to remain focused on the big picture.
This season, Charleston had its conference championship curse broken.
Since the last time the College made the NCAA tourney in 1999, the team has lost the conference championship game a whopping six times.
This made the school’s tournament birth this season especially impactful.
Last Friday, the Cougars faced off against the Auburn Tigers in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Auburn, like Charleston, had just broken its own streak of missing the tournament. The Tigers were making their first tournament appearance since 2003.
In an outing where the bigger conference (SEC) was supposed to stomp the little guys (CAA), the College made sure to prove their validity.
This game wasn’t exactly a shootout. Both teams primarily rode defensive play from start to finish.
Despite falling behind by as much as seven with two minutes left in the first period, the College clawed back and evened up the score heading into halftime.
In usual fashion, Grant Riller led the way in the first, with 12 points on 5-9 shooting.
In the first half, shooting woes plagued both clubs. The Cougars shot 40% from the field and 20% from three in that time, while the Tigers shot 28% from the floor and went 0-13 from deep.
This game remained even thanks to free throw disparity. Auburn attempted 13 shots from the charity stripe in the first, while the College only had two attempts of their own.
In the second half, both teams were able to diversify their scoring output.
The pace of this half was perfect for Charleston stud forward, Jarrell Brantley.
Brantley seized control of the Charleston offense by muscling his way in for an efficient six makes on eight attempts, good for 18 points in the half.
As the game progressed towards the final minutes, it seemed as though extra time would be inevitable, thanks to the stellar defensive play from both programs.
However, thanks to missed foul calls, that would not be the case.
Down three with 20 seconds left, the Cougars went to their best three-point specialist, Grant Riller. With four seconds left, he launched a step back three-pointer that fell short of the mark.
Upon review, it became clear that Riller’s shooting elbow was slapped as he released his shot.
The call was missed, and therefore the College’s chances of victory went out the window.
Despite the team not receiving this essential foul call in a critical moment, it was not the reason behind their defeat.
The primary culprit for the Cougars’ loss was the turnover bug that seemed to bite the entire roster.
After being exceptional at protecting the ball all season long, Charleston committed a startling 21 turnovers, 11 of which came in the last half.
Even though the team looked to do big things this March, they have no reason to feel like they missed the mark.
This season was one of the most impactful in Charleston history and it will stand in the records as such for quite some time.
This game was the last for the squad’s seniors: Evan Bailey, Cameron Johnson and all-time great Cougar, Joe Chealey.
Chealey, who carried the program on his back in the CAA Championship game comeback, was hobbled all game due to an ankle injury from the conference tourney.
He fouled out of the game with 5:30 left, with two points.
Charleston fans, hold your heads high! Even after such a tremendous season, there is plenty to be excited about for the future.
This tournament appearance may have been the school’s first in many years, but it certainly will not be the last – if Coach Grant and his guys have anything to do with it.
Although the team will be losing Chealey, Grant Riller and Jarrell Brantley will be back in TD Arena next season to make yet another run.
The College of Charleston men’s basketball team concluded the 2017-18 season with a 26-8 overall record, a CAA championship and a perfect home record.
The sky is the limit for this program, and they will continue to push the envelope next November.