Saturday, November 10, 2012

What Could Be in The CAA (Recap of Towson vs. Charleston)

For seven years, I had been covering games from New York and Hofstra as my base of operations for this blog.  When I moved down to South Carolina in August, I wondered what my first game would be covering in this region.  A few weeks ago, I finally scanned several of the local teams within a two hour area and I came across an intriguing match-up that would start my college basketball season.   

College of Charleston's Board of Trustees had recently voted to open negotiations with the CAA.  Basically, the Cougars are putting one foot in the door to moving from the Southern Conference to the Colonial.  It was a move that both Davidson and Appalachian State had refused to do, likely for budgetary travel reasons. 

So why not truly get your foot in the door and see what the CAA has to offer by playing Towson in your first game of the season.  Now yes, I know the conference schedules are made up in advance, but how about giving me some artistic license for this story.

Four years ago, I was there for the christening of the John Kresse Court at the TD arena.   The arena, which was at that time named the Carolina First Arena, had just opened and my friend Tony Terentieff and I were there to see the inaugural Charleston Classic, which started on November 14, 2008.   We were there for the first few days of the preseason tournament since Hofstra was playing in the Classic.  I remember fondly that during the second day of the tournament, there was a rain storm and the roof leaked in certain parts, including the area right above we were sitting.  Water trickled down on to Tieff.  Good times.

Some things haven't changed from four years ago.  In November of 2008, Barack Obama had just been elected President.  This week, Barack Obama was re-elected President.  However, four years ago, I was here on vacation.  Four years later, I am here since I now live less than two hours away in Columbia.  Some things have changed.

The Cougars have also undergone a big change at the coaching helm.  Doug Wojcik, who had been previously the coach of Tulsa, is now the new head coach of Charleston.  After averaging twenty wins a season at Tulsa, Wojcik, the former point guard on the David Robinson led Navy NCAA Tournament teams, is now responsible for trying to get the Cougars back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 1998-99 season.

Wojcik has inherited an experienced Cougars team.  Four of the five starters and six of the top seven players from last year's 19-12 team return for Charleston.  Andrew Lawrence, Trent Wiedeman, Anthony Stitt and Adjehl Baru, Matt Sundberg and Nori Johnson combined to average nearly fifty five points per game last season.  Lawrence averaged five and half assists and nearly two steals per game. Wiedeman averaged 8.7 rebounds per game and had nine-nine double doubles on the season. Stitt had a career high twenty three points in an early non conference win last season vs. eventual NIT runner-up Massachusetts.

Wojcik's opponent has only had one season under his belt as a head coach. Towson's Pat Skerry, hopes to put that 1-31 season way behind him as he enters his second season.  Unlike Wojcik, Skerry has a very unproven team.  The Tigers have nine new players on the team - five freshman, one JUCO transfer, and three Big East transfers.  And that doesn't include Four McGlynn, the America East Rookie of the Year, who transferred to Towson, but must sit out the year due to NCAA transfer rules 

Skerry is hoping that his Big East transfer trifecta of Bilal Dixon (Providence), Mike Burwell (South Florida) and Jerrelle Benimon (Georgetown) will lead them to a far better season.  Skerry does have two returning players of significance.  Marcus Damas, the Tigers' second leading scorer from last season returns. Damas averaged twelve and a half points per game and had a career high twenty six points vs. CAA regular season champion Drexel.   Guard Kris Walden started all thirty two games last season and led all freshmen in the Colonial in assists with 103.

I made the straight shot drive from Columbia to Charleston via I-26 and got to the TD arena about a half hour before the start of the game.  The TD arena seats 5,100.  The home team was welcomed with a good sized crowd of 4,215.  But strangely the concession area above the filled student section near the Towson bench was closed. Perhaps they knew that a lot of fans would go to the Five Guys nearby for burgers. Wojcik would note later in his post game conference that he was very impressed with how the fans and the sound system filled the arena.  Wojcik seems very pleased with the facilities and he should be. It's a very nice arena.

The crowd quickly got into the game as Charleston worked it inside to Wiedeman and Baru.  Meanwhile, in a similar fashion to a game from last season vs. Hofstra, Towson shot itself in the foot in the beginning.  In their first three possessions, the Tigers had a shot clock violation, a traveling call and an offensive foul.  After Wiedeman emphatically blocked a Benimon shot which resulted in the crowd roaring into the under 16 minute media timeout, Charleston was up 9-2.

Things did not get better for the Tigers.  Wojcik's influence on the Cougars is already evident.  Charleston was very strong on the defensive end, with active hands in the passing lane.  The Cougars forced twelve first half turnovers on the Tigers, which resulted in eighteen points.  Towson struggled to get shots off, especially from the outside, shooting one of six from beyond the arc in the first half.

On the offensive end, Charleston repeatedly worked the ball inside to Wiedeman and Baru, scoring sixteen first half points in the paint, while only attempting three shots from beyond the arc in the first twenty minutes.  The Cougars finished their final possession of the first half with a beautiful passing display, resulting in a Wiedeman dunk that put Charleston up 40-14 at the half.

As I reviewed the stats for the first twenty minutes, the halftime show was a tricycle race, which I thought was very cool.  Good thing my color analyst, aka my seven year old son Matthew, was not here.  Otherwise, he would have volunteered to take on the winner.

Charleston picked up right where they left off in the first half.  As much as I was impressed with Lawrence and Wiedeman during the game, my favorite Cougars' player is Baru.  Baru works so hard on both ends of the court.  His effort keeping a loose ball in the Cougars' possession resulted in a Stitt three pointer that put Charleston up 46-16. A Wiedeman dunk extended the Cougars' lead to 49-16 four minutes into the second half.

Right after the Wiedeman dunk, Skerry called a timeout. The game for all intensive purposes was over.  But if Towson wanted to show their fans that there is hope for the future, they needed to play better over the final sixteen minutes of the game.

Whatever Skerry said to his team, it worked.  The Tigers started to get the ball into Benimon.  His three point play cut the lead to thirty.  He followed with another layup and a strong blockout on an entry pass that forced a Cougars' turnover.  Benimon's strong play resulted in Wojcik calling a timeout with his team up twenty six points.

The lead would stay in that twenty five point range for the next several minutes. But Towson was now holding their own, especially on the offensive glass where the Tigers had seventeen offensive rebounds, eight of which came from Dixon.  Wiedeman gave Dixon credit after the game and noted that they had to a much better job defensive rebounding for their next game against St John's.

Over the last five minutes, Wojcik started emptying his bench.  Towson continued to play with concerted effort and actually cut the lead down to fifteen before Harrison Bowne hit a stat stuffer layup at the buzzer to make the final score 75-58.

The Cougars shot 56 percent from the field.  Charleston also showed its balance scoring as four of their players scored in double figures.  Wiedeman had seventeen points. Lawrence had sixteen points, seven rebounds and five assists. Stitt had twelve points, shooting three of four beyond the arc and Anthony Thomas had twelve points.  Baru just missed a double double with nine points and nine rebounds.

After shooting just six of twenty six from the field in the first half, Towson rebounded nicely shooting forty eight percent from the field in the second half.  Benimon led all scorers for Towson with twenty three points. Dixon had his first double double as a Tiger with fifteen points and ten rebounds.  Walden added ten points off the bench, his first non starting game for Towson.  Damas was held scoreless in twenty four minutes of action.

After the post game news conference, on the advice of Luke Reasoner, I headed to the Five Guys on King Street to grab a burger before I hit the road for the long drive back to my new home.  Unfortunately, it had just stopped making burgers at 10 PM.  I left for my car and later stopped at a McDonald's on the way back to Columbia.

I know that next time I attend a Charleston game, it will be a weekend game. Having enjoyed Charleston so much four years ago, I will make sure I have plenty time to take in the sites and have time for a real meal.  If the house up in New York closes soon, with a little luck, maybe it will be with my color analyst.

Note - Special thanks to Dustin Semanovick and Marlene Navor for all their kindness and help.  I know that's their job as Sports Information Directors, but they do it well and it's appreciated.


  1. Great Article! Hope you can make the Charleston Classic. Love anything to do with the Cougars!!

  2. Thanks for the compliment. Due to my younger son's 5th birthday, I won't be at the Charleston Classic since I will be back in NY to celebrate it with him, along with my wife and older son. I will be covering some other games this weekend. Next year, when my whole family is down here, rest assured I will be at the classic. Tough loss for CofC yesterday. Hopefully they will do better over the next two games.

  3. Really the things change. last season was great with the participation of Andrew Lawrence, Trent Wiedeman..... Was a combination of strength, discipline and good notes. Excellent article.