Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Cougars Revert to Old Ways for Second Loss

Final Score: Coastal Carolina 67, College of Charleston 61
Top Performers: 
Badou Diagne 14 pts, 10 rebs
Cameron Johnson 20 pts (7-18 FG), 3 rebs

“We knew Coastal Carolina was going to be a physical contest and tough game. We had some good spurts. We just have to learn to put teams away. With six minutes to go, we were up by five (points) and we didn’t capitalize on things to get it to nine-or-10 points. There were some things that we did good, but we have to continue to learn how to win (close games).”

That quote from Earl Grant after the game just about sums up everything you need to know from this one. The Cougars knew that Coastal's toughness and experience was going to be a challenge and when push came to shove and the Cougars needed a basket, a stop or something to turn the tide back in their favor, they came up short.

The Chants outscored CofC a whopping 34-8 in the paint and out-rebounded them 39 to 33. They were beating the Cougar defenders off the dribble and getting to the rim. In total they shot 55% from the field.

CofC was able to stay in the game off a strong performance by Cam Johnson, finally cutting down on their turnovers (they had just five on the night) and drawing some offensive fouls on the Chanticleers. 

As Grant said, the Cougars would go up five with just six minutes to go in the game. At that point you're wishing for the same decisiveness you saw the Cougs display against Navy to put that game away, but inconsistency still defines this young team. The Cougars reverted to that old Doug Wojcik special, wherein they can't for the life of them create easy scoring opportunities.

Missed jumpers, hesitancy to go to the rim and meet contact and not getting back on defense allowed CCU to rip off an 11-0 run late in the game that proved too much to come back from.

A few other notes from this one below. Lots for the Cougars to work on.
  • This is a game where the team misses Joe Chealey, Grant Riller and Nick Harris (who played two minutes and is in the third week of being cleared to play following injury). Those first two guys are scorers and Nick provides a paint presence that the Cougars clearly lacked tonight.
  • One of the more egregious stats from last night: the Cougars shot a putrid 11-19 (57%) from the free throw line. Points don't get any easier than that.
  • Cliff Ellis' game plan was clearly to take away Canyon Barry. The Cougs' leading scorer was held to zero points in the first half.
  • It's still a tad too early, but the starting front court is not getting it done. Aside from the aforementioned points in the paint disparity, the CofC forward combo of Gilmore and Brantley combined for 1 rebound and 8 points. Both played fewer minutes than O'Donohue and Bourne. Gilmore's 3 points were a season high, and he has posted single rebound games in 3 of 4 contests this year. Brantley's foul trouble limited him to zero boards after he was leading the Cougars with 7.6 per game.
  • Peyton Hulsey also needs to step up the scoring if he wants to keep his starting spot over Marquise Pointer. He attempted just two field goals in 25 minutes of play (missing both) and finished with 1 point. I get that he's playing out of position, but that's exactly why I wish I saw him post up the undersized CCU guards like he did against Davidson.
  • The Cougars had zero fast break points in this game
Next up is Western Carolina the day after Thanksgiving. Should be a victory for CofC if they can get back to form. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Cougars Look to Rebound Against Coastal Carolina

College of Charleston (2-1, 0-0)
Coastal Carolina (2-2, 0-0)
TD Arena
Tipoff at 7:00 pm, stream HERE

After consecutive road games, the Cougars return to the friendly confines of TD Arena for the first of three straight home games. Tonight the opponent is Coastal Carolina, the defending Big South champions who are picked to finish second in the conference this year behind High Point. 

It's tough to get a good read on the Chanticleers because their games so far have been on either side of the spectrum: two convincing losses to Nevada and Hawaii, two blowout wins against non-D1 competition. It should be another good measuring stick for the Cougars, and one where they should come out firing and focused. Grant is building this game up because the Chants are a defending conference champion and the Cougs should have a chip on their shoulder for the way that Davidson game ended.

A few more notes below:
  • The Chants have a well-balanced starting lineup of two seniors, two juniors and a redshirt sophomore. All five starters average at least seven points per game. 
  • Coastal's 140-67 victory over ....Grace Bible...resulted in 35 new school records being set. That should tell you everything you need to know about the level of competition this team has faced in victories. Some program called Piedmont International was their other win.
  • Against Nevada, the Chants were held to a 30% FG shooting night (including 26% from three). They also had 17 turnovers. They were also unable to break 40% shooting against Hawaii, and also had 20 turnovers.
  • The Cougars have yet to be out rebounded in a game this season. The Chants, despite a lack of size outside the forward positions, are averaging 38.5 rebounds/game against D1 competition. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Late Errors Spoil Cougars' Upset Bid

Final Score: Davidson 82, College of Charleston 81
Top Performers: 
Canyon Barry 31 pts (3-8 3pt, 4-4 FT), 6 rebs
Peyton Aldridge 21 pts, 3 rebs

This was not a game many Cougar fans were expecting to win. The goal this early in a season featuring so many unfamiliar CofC players is growth every game...Having said that, man a win at Belk Arena would have been sweet.

The Cougars, led by another monster scoring performance by Canyon Barry, found themselves up on the Wildcats with three minutes left to play in a net-scorching contest. Unfortunately, two late and costly unforced turnovers by CofC gave Davidson one too many opportunities to score. Peyton Aldridge sank two late free throws with 4 seconds to go and a Marquise Pointer three at the buzzer was just long. The Cougs found themselves on the wrong side of the razor thin margin of error.

Painful though it may be, the final scoreboard should not detract from some great things that the Cougars did in this one. 

We'll start with Coach Earl Grant because he was a master tactician going against one of the best college basketball coaches in the country. The Cougars were handicapped by early foul trouble, but Grant was able to maintain effective lineups and push the right buttons to ensure the game never got out of hand. Grant also drew up a fantastic play when the Cougs had to go the length of the floor in 4 seconds to win the game. Finally, many of the x-factors on the floor for CofC are Grant's new crop of players: Pointer, Brantley, Bourne and Hulsey.

The star of this game obviously was Canyon Barry. He padded his scoring average this season with his second 30+ outing of the year and showcased a diverse offensive skill set. He's looking more composed and confident with his decision making and aggressiveness this year - driving to the rack, pulling up for jumpers and converting from the line. 

Aside from Canyon's scoring outburst (which helped a lot), the rest of the Cougars did a some great things to come within inches of beating one of the A-10's best teams. CofC crushed Davidson on the glass, 44-27 including a 14-5 edge on the offensive end. This gave the Cougs extra possessions that helped make up for their growing pains with turnovers and fouling. Gimore, Brantley and Bourne deserve a lot of credit for that.

After a first half that saw Davidson in the bonus for more than 10 minutes, Grant and the Cougars tightened up their defense and clawed back into the game. If they can maintain a stout D and keep putting up 75 points a game, the Cougars will surprise a lot of teams in the CAA. A few more notes below:
  • The marquee matchup in this one was Barry vs Jack Gibbs. Barry, Johnson and others took turns guarding the Davidson sharpshooter and they did a fairly decent job. He had 18 points in 39 minutes of play, no rebounds, 3 assists and 3 turnovers.
  • For such a historically tough place to play, Belk Arena has now seen back-to-back road teams drop 80 or more points on McKillop Court. The Cats are 2-0, but that trend is very surprising.
  • Cam Johnson was in foul trouble throughout the game, which is a shame because Canyon really could have used a Robin - especially down the stretch. Cam was effective when he was on the court, but calls weren't going his way with the refs fixated on Gibbs.
  • Marquise Pointer continues to show flashes - this time demonstrating a well-refined knack for the pick and roll game. He had at least three pocket passes that should have been converted, but were not handled by the roll man. That could be a great way to produce points off the bench, and a nearly-forgotten fundamental basketball strategy for Cougar fans.
  • Peyton Hulsey post-ups should also be a thing. The 6-5 wing, who has been playing mostly point guard this season, was 5 for 6 from the floor because of his ability to body up smaller guards under the basket. I feel like the coaches are still figuring out exactly how to use a utility guy like Hulsey, because he's above average at a lot of things.
  • Haven't re-watched the final play of the game, but the ball never touched Canyon Barry's hands. He may have been blanketed, but it was curious to see Pointer attempt the final shot - no matter how open he was on the play

Friday, November 20, 2015

Cougars Face First Test with Matinee Stop at Davidson

College of Charleston (2-0, 0-0)
Davidson College (1-0, 0-0)
Belk Arena
Tipoff at 1:00 pm, live stream HERE

Team rebuilding efforts are not linear. There is rarely a smooth positive slope of improvement where the x axis is time and the y axis is performance. 

Just ask the Cougars. Since the days of Andrew Goudelock, Bobby Cremins and their crew of sharpshooters taking on the ultimate mid-major zeitgeist of Steph Curry in regular Southern Conference meetings, CofC has gone through three head coaches and a roller coaster of expectations and disappointments. 

Gone are the headliners from those torrid SoCon rivalry days - Curry, Goudelock, Jake Cohen, Andrew Lawrence and others. What remains (as it has since 1989) is Davidson head men's basketball coach Bob McKillop. That consistency is why Davidson remains a mid-major power and Charleston attempts to rebuild.  

The names are different on both sides of the ball, but Davidson will play the way they always have: smart, composed and methodical. Their players will push the limits of moving screen rules, they will make their free throws, the fans at Belk Arena will clear their throats to belt out Sweet Caroline. It'll be the toughest test for this young Cougars squad so far, but a fair measuring stick compared to the soft schedule thus far.

Davidson has played just one game this season - a 90-85 home triumph over #FreeTako (Fall) and the UCF Knights. In that game, junior guard Jack Gibbs scored 35 points on 23 shots to lead the Wildcats. Davidson got great production from their starters, only turned the ball over 6 times in a fast-paced contest and shot respectively from the floor. 

Conversely, the Wildcats surrendered 85 points at home, lost the edge in rebounding and got limited production from their bench. If there's a way for CofC to attack Davidson, it might be with their reserves. Davidson only really played seven deep in their first game, while the Cougars were actually at their best against Navy when guys like Pointer, O'Donohue and Bailey kickstarted the offense. 

The Cougars will have to play close to flawlessly if they want to stay undefeated. What terrifies me the most is the young CofC forward combo hacking at the rate they did in Annapolis, putting an elite free throw shooting team at the line and clearing space under the basket. Coach Grant talks a lot about growth and building. If the Cougs can take care of the ball, defend and make open shots they could surprise us. Win or lose - those are the things I'd like to see. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Cougars Move to 2-0 with First Road Win

The announced crowd of just over 600 at Alumni Gym in Annapolis

Final Score: College of Charleston 72, Navy 58
Top Performers:
Canyon Barry 22 pts (2-6 3pt, 8-9 FT), 2 blks, 1 stl
Shawn Anderson 21 pts, 6 rebs, 2 asts

Before a nearly empty Alumni Gym crowd, the young and developing Charleston Cougars shook off a slow start to pull away from Navy. They were able to do so in front of a raucous Cougar road crew who may have outnumbered home team fans.

One of those in attendance was myself, there to catch my first glimpse of this year's intriguing squad in person.

Things started off on a familiar note - one that brought up bad memories of the Doug Wojcik era on the grounds where the former CofC head coach cut his teeth as a collegiate athlete. The Cougars were unable to score until the Midshipmen had put together an 11 point run of their own. The past two years would see this double-digit lead as nearly insurmountable as the archaic CofC offense would struggle to produce a run of its own.

Luckily for us fans, this Cougar squad has yet to demonstrate such tendencies (a fluffier schedule this season has helped). A line change from Earl Grant pumped some fresh legs into the lineup and Evan Bailey, James Bourne and Marquise Pointer helped steady the ship with defense and timely shooting.

The Cougars would go up on the strength of their bench, as Barry and CofC's forwards struggled with foul trouble early, and built a comfortable lead. Best of all, when Navy made a mini run of their own late in the contest, the Cougars did the opposite of what they were so prone to last year and put this game away. A trifecta of daggers from Canyon Barry (driving layup +1) and Cam Johnson (back-to-back treys) allowed Charleston to cruise out of Naptown with a "W".

A few other assorted notes from this one:
  • King Kresse the Amateur Body Language Expert sees a vast improvement in unspoken cues from this team versus last year. Again, winning against lower-tier D1 teams will give any group the warm and fuzzies, but the regularity of encouraging gestures, bench celebrations and player-coach contact is starting to mirror Coach Grant's positive personality.
  • CofC was not fazed at all by the full court press that Navy threw at them often. Kudos to O'Donohue, Brantley and Hulsey for not being forced into poor decisions and moving the ball.
  • Fouls were again an issue and it's likely to continue to be one for this young team. Navy earned 24 of their 58 points at the line and Charleston had six players collect 3 or more personals.
  • Mostly liked what I saw at of freshman Marquise Pointer. He probably should not be taking the second most shots on the team, but he deserves credit for getting the Cougars back into the game with his penetration, passing and shot making. He also might have the tightest handles of anyone on the team.
  • Barry was limited by foul trouble, but found enough time on the court to have an impact. He had some nice drives to the hoop once the Cougars broke the press (including a ferocious dunk in the 2nd half) and hit his free throws when he met contact.
  • Still don't know exactly what role is ideally suited for Cam Johnson, but it might not matter because he's a baller. The injuries to Chealey and Riller make it tougher to assess how his skills would translate with guard duties split, but he's been the team's 2nd best player these first two games. Last night he played great man-to-man defense, shot over 50% from the floor, grabbed six boards (2nd best on the team) and hit the aforementioned backbreaking threes to secure the win. Will be interesting to see how his game matures over the season.
Next up for the Cougs is a tough one; this Saturday against Davidson. It's my annual opportunity to watch replays of Antwaine Wiggins blocking Steph Curry at the buzzer.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Cougars Look to Wash WVU Taste Out of Mouths with Rivalry Win

College of Charleston (2-4, 0-0)
El Cid (3-3, 0-0)
TD Arena
Tipoff at 7:30 pm on MyTV Charleston and

The Puerto Rico tipoff package of games (3 on the island, and a non-bracket game against West Virginia a week later) provided the young Cougars with a staunch 4-game stretch of major conference foes. They came out battered (just 1-3 over the stretch) but as we've seen with mid-major conference mates like UNC Greensboro and Delaware, the lumps you take from the big boys in the early season can toughen into calluses that benefit you when the level of play recedes to the mean.

The next three games for the Cougars - all at home - against The Citadel, South Carolina State and Campbell, should provide a better measuring stick for CofC. We've seen flashes of excellence offensively and defensively from Earl Grant's squad, only to have it unravel against the superior athleticism of the Big Six conference teams. The Cougs should be favored in these three home games and need to get back on the positive side of .500 ball in preparation for conference play.

Up first is crosstown rival Citadel. 

After floundering for years as one of the worst programs in Division 1, the peninsula's honorable protectors are skating by with a 3-3 record that doesn't look bad at first glance. Except that they're 0-3 against other D1 teams. Their wins come against the embarrassing likes of Toccoa Falls, Bob Jones (?) and Warren Wilson. They picked up 2 losses as the annual punching bag at the Armed Forces Classic and lost by 11 to Florida State.

So...they're better than usual, in being "semi-competent" in games, but Coach Driesell's team remains one of the lower D1 teams in the country. They're staying in games with their defense and plodding pace of play and being led by junior Ashton Moore. 

This game has all the narrative characteristics of both an easy win and a trap game. Overlooked opponent, long gap between games, the natural emotions of a rivalry etc. Grant and the Cougars should earn their first home victory of the season tonight, but it will be up to them to determine if that is via blowout or drawn-out 50 point stinker. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Looking Back on Puerto Rico, Looking Ahead to West Virginia

The shot from GMU that was NO good: difference between being 2-3 and 1-4 for CofC.

Last weekend the Cougars spent a few days in Puerto Rico for ESPN's Puerto Rico tipoff, the latest in a gentleman's agreement with the Worldwide Leader: you use our facilities for the Charleston Classic, we get to play in one of your other tournaments.

Given the youth and inexperience of this team and coaching staff, one win out of their three guaranteed games seemed like a reasonable expectation. After playing defending national champion UConn to a last minute nail biter, dropping a winnable game to Texas A&M (a game that Adjehi Baru was forced to sit out) and finally breaking through thanks to a missed buzzer beater by George Mason, the team eventually finished the way we thought they would.

Up next for the Cougars is the team that won that very same tournament: West Virginia University. They're big, tough and aggressive. Powering through the PR Tipoff earned them a Top-25 ranking and they'll surely be a big test for the young Cougs.

"Young" is the key word. The names I'm about to mention below: Canyon Barry, Glen Pierre, Cam Johnson and Evan Bailey are all underclassmen. In Puerto Rico they displayed the inconsistency that we expect from them. CofC was outrebounded in all three games and committed numerous turnovers and fouls in at least two of them. They're correctable errors, which is why I expect Charleston to be much better team by season's end. I just don't expect them to be that much better by the time they play WVU.

UConn - Taking the Champs to the Wire

For the second straight season, the College of Charleston played the defending national champs early in the year. Connecticut is not the team they were last year, but Ryan Boatright and company are still a tough out. The Cougars played this game with a lot of heart and effort, especially defensively, but this was a classic example of one step forward and two steps back.

Fouling was again an issue for Earl Grant's squad. Fouls on offense, fouls on defense and the subsequent effects on possession and free throws negated the stellar defense exhibited by CofC. That was a disappointment, but it should not take the place of positive developments we saw from the guys.

Four starters finished in double figures. CofC held UConn to 32% shooting and 30 points in the first half. Even given the ridiculous free throw disparity, the Cougars were still able to keep the UConn lead at bay thanks to some hot second half shooting from Stitt and Barry. Adjehi Baru, as he has in many big games over his career, looked like he belonged with the UConn bigs.

But unfortunately the Cougs were never able to get over the 5 point hump down the stretch and Connecticut won the game by 7. Worst of all, Baru injured his leg in the final minutes and would miss the next game.

Texas A&M - Glen Pierre? Glen Pierre!

The Aggies are not a great basketball team this year, and this is a game many Coug fans would almost expect to win with a fully healthy roster. Without the inside presence of Baru, it wouldn't be enough.

You could count the number of field goals Texas A&M made outside 5 feet on one hand. They are not a good jump-shooting team, turned the ball over and were playing a very thin and tired-looking CofC team. Fouls were again and issue for the overmatched CofC team, but it did net one positive.

Glen Pierre finally got a chance to contribute something and he looked like a clear upgrade over O'Donohue and Wishon. The little-used sophomore took charges, drew fouls at the basket, had a couple nice blocks and looked to have a better knack for knowing where to be than many of his big man peers.

Even with his unlikely contributions, this Doug Wojcik throwback game was an unpleasant reminder of where this team could be. With both teams playing sloppily through the 40's, two quick scoring spurts late in the game by the Aggies were enough to put this one away. Last year, and at points this year, Charleston has proved they're not the team to consistently score 6 points in less than 3 minutes of game time. They dropped to 0-2 in Puerto Rico.

George Mason - A Win!

Nearly 5 years ago, the Cougars and Patriots played in a narrowly decided Bracketbuster game that eventually went CofC's way (Still have not gotten tired of showing that clip and still hate that douchebag Pearson for trying to decapitate Tony White Jr.). It was the first in many meetings between the two schools that would come down to the final shot.

As Mason's last second three went halfway down into the hoop, only to spin back out, a huge sigh of relief from not going 0-3 in PR rushed through CougarNation. GMU is not very good this year - they'll likely finish at the back of the A-10. But a win is a win and the Cougars desperately needed one to get the confidence they displayed against UConn back for the week leading up to WVU.

CofC started this game slow out the gates, but by God's good grace they finally stopped fouling at such an astounding rate. The offense was kept afloat by a strong, 17 point performance by Canyon Barry and timely contributions from Cam Johnson, Donovan Gilmore and a rested and somewhat recovered Adjehi Baru. Even Evan Bailey made a couple big plays: mixing it up in the paint for a rebound and nailing his first collegiate three within the span of a minute.

There's still work to do on shot selection and general decision making, as well as the technical aspects of not allowing so many offensive rebounds, but the Cougars showed enough potential to leave Puerto Rico in good spirits. I was glad to see them breakthrough and finally get a narrow win - we all know how dispiriting it is when you start to pile up narrow losses.

There's a big difference between a record of 1-4 and 2-3. CofC will look to pull back to .500 on the season when they take on the Mountaineers. At their best, the Cougs can play with anyone. At their worst they can make you pull your hair out in frustration. They'll need to be trending upward by the time they arrive off that country road Saturday.