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CofC Fall in CAA Opener to Delaware 67-66

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Blue Hens Hold Off Cougars in Final Minutes

By: Jeff Walker, Sportswriter

The College of Charleston men’s basketball team opened league play Friday afternoon hosting one of the CAA’s pre-season favorites to TD Arena. 3000 plus fans filled the arena on New Year’s Eve hoping CofC would take down mighty Delaware. Despite holding the Blue Hens scoreless in the final two and a half minutes, Charleston came up short falling 67-66 to Delaware.

After having their first CAA contest against Drexel postponed earlier in the week, CofC fall to 8-5 overall and 0-1 in conference play. With 7.7 seconds remaining in the contest CofC had an opportunity to come away with the win, placing the ball in the hands of John Meeks. But a nice defensive stand by Delaware thwarted any last second heroics. After being sidelined for the past three weeks, Meeks lead the Cougars with 17 points, going 6 or 10 from the floor and 4 of 5 from the free throw line.

Aside from a couple of stats, including a few missed free throws, the game was evenly matched. Both teams scored seven second chance points, with Charleston edging Delaware in points in the paint and on fast breaks. However, 18 turnovers and going 6 of 21 from beyond the arc hurt the Cougars.

Jameer Nelson Jr. did most of the damage for the Blue Hens. The 6’1″ junior guard lead all scorers with 22 points, making good on 9 of 17 from the field including four from long range. Teammates Kevin Anderson and Ryan Allen chipped in 14 apiece, with Allen adding two from 3-point land. With the win the Delaware improve to 10-5 on the season, and 1-1 in the CAA.

The contest was tied a few times early in the opening period with the Cougars taking a four-point (14-10) lead after Brenden Tucker drained a long-range missile with 13:27 remaining in the half. A couple of back-to-back jumpers by Meeks put the home team up 25-23 with just over six minutes before the break. Trailing by five Tucker connected again from downtown as CofC headed into the locker room down 34-32 at intermission.

A 10-2 run capped on by a dunk by Andrew Carr inside three minutes in the second half put the visitors up by double digits. The Cougars would slowly chip away at the lead midway thru the period, cutting it to 53-51 when Ben Burnham hit a short jumper in the paint. Less than two minutes later a layup by Anderson extended the Blue Hen margin to eight.

When Reyne Smith made two from the foul line with seven minutes showing on the clock it was back to a one possession (61-58) game. The offense was lack luster for the final minutes with both teams missing the mark. Allen’s layup with 2:34 left provided Delaware with a 67-63 margin. A follow up rebound for an easy layup by Osinachi Smart would bring CofC within two.

After the Blue Hens came up empty, Tucker missed the front end of two from the line at the 1:12 mark. Delaware missed again on two attempts before the final play was left to Meeks. A strong defense led to a steal by Anderson sealed the win for the visitors.

Aside from Meeks Charleston had two players finish with double figures. Tucker made good on 3 of 5 from beyond the arc finishing with 15 points. Smart had an all-around good game, going 5 of 6 from the floor including 1 of 1 from the line for 11 points. Smart added a game high 10 rebounds to go with one blocked shot.

Meeks who’s a fierce competitor and hasn’t played since December 7th took the loss heavy after the game. Cougar head coach Pat Kelsey provided his player some perspective. “Like all great competitors are, he was devastated in the locker room. But I walked right in and looked him in the eye and said, ‘We’ll ride or die with you every day of the week’. Everybody in the locker room feels the same way.”

Turning the ball over 18 times didn’t help Charleston. Kelsey said earlier in the week that is something the Cougars need to work on. “A lot of our turnovers were on trying to drive into gaps and spaces that weren’t there. We were making bad decisions on our drives.”

Although Delaware came into TD Arena with a loss in the CAA, falling to UNC-Wilmington 70-68 on Wednesday, Charleston gave them a fight, nearly sending the Blue Hens home on a two-game losing streak. CofC big man Smart said the league has a lot of parity. “In this CAA conference, anybody can beat anybody.”

The Cougars will hope to regroup as they hit the road next week. Charleston takes on Northeastern Monday night before heading to Hofstra on Wednesday. CofC return to TD Arena on Sunday January 9th when they play host to Elon.

 

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