Head Coach Pat Kelsey Earns His First CAA Win
By: Jeff Walker, Sportswriter
It’s been a rough three weeks for the College of Charleston men’s basketball team. They have gone 1-2 over the holidays, losing (59-67) on the road to Stetson before narrowly getting by Old Dominion (82-80), only to have their opening CAA contest with Drexel postponed until February due to Covid protocols. They ended 2021 falling 66-67 to CAA opponent Delaware, as well as having one game cancelled and another league game rescheduled.
Heading into their home contest with Elon on Sunday afternoon the Cougars stood at 8-5 overall and 0-1 in the conference. After battling the Phoenix for 40 minutes and despite squandering a 15-point lead, CofC was able to hold on down the stretch and eke out a 65-61 win over Elon. With the loss the Phoenix fall to 4-11 on the season and 1-1 in CAA play.
It appeared Charleston had it all under control up 59-44 with less than six minutes left on the clock, but big plays by the Phoenix soon made it a one possession game. When Elon’s Darius Burford made a driving lay-up with 1:54 remaining the Cougars held on to a 61-58 advantage.
Dimitrius Underwood would answer for CofC, however a lay-up by Michael Graham at the 1:12 mark followed by one of two from the line by Graham made it 63-61 with 39 ticks on the clock. After John Meeks miss fired for the home team, the visitor had 17 seconds to tie the contest or take the lead. But a travel call by Burford lead to a turnover allowing Underwood to ice the contest by making two clutch free throws with 3 seconds remaining, providing the 3000 plus fans inside TD Arena a sigh of relief.
Meeks would lead three Charleston players in scoring finishing with a team best 19 points including one from long range. Underwood had an all-around solid game, going 6 of 11 from the field for 14 points, adding five rebounds to go along with five steals. Ben Burnham went 5 of 7 to add 12 points for the Cougars. Meeks and Osinachi Smart each hauled in seven rebounds for CofC.
While CofC wasn’t explosive on offense out of the gate, they did manage to take a decisive lead midway through the opening period as Elon made just one of 10 from the field, trailing 16-3 near the nine-minute mark. The Phoenix went eight minutes without a basket until Hunter McIntosh broke the drought.
Elon would fight their way back into the contest, down just 18-16 with six minutes remaining before the break. The Cougars would stretch the lead to nine after Babacar Faye hit from long range, only to take a six-point advantage (35-29) into the locker room at the half.
The Cougars found some extra mojo after intermission, enjoying a 15-point margin (53-38) near the mid-point in the second period. But Elon found some offense to make it a nail-biter at the end. What ultimately cost the Phoenix was turnovers early in the contest and the last second travelling call, preventing any potential overtime play.
CofC head ball coach Pat Kelsey who earned his first CAA win said games often have to do with offensive swings, adding it’s how you finish that determines the win. “They (Elon) banged some big 3’s. That’s how it goes. Basketball is a game of momentum and runs, and they went on a run at that time, but we figured a way to nail it down in the end.”
Despite the final stats looking relatively close the Cougars lead throughout the entire game. What helped Elon get back into the contest was long range missiles. The Phoenix went 8 of 24 from beyond the arc with Charleston making only 4 of 21 from long range.
Like coach, Underwood said it’s important for the team to stay on track the entire 40 minutes of play. “We kind of let up defensively, gave up some easy kick out threes. We just kind of lost focus. It’s important for us to lock in defensively late in games and to really close teams out.”
The Phoenix had three players as well hitting double figures with McIntosh knocking down 5 of 12 from beyond the arc for a game best 22 points. Teammates Burford and Graham chipped in 14 and 12 points respectively with Graham grabbing a game best eight boards.
The Cougars have little time to relish in the victory as they play host to William & Mary on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. ET at TD Arena.