Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Night in Charleston (Recap of UNC Asheville vs. College of Charleston)

In November 2008, my friend Tony Terentieff and I took a trip down to Charleston to see Hofstra play in the inaugural Charleston Classic.  I quickly fell in love with a city full of history, culture, character, wonderful southern architecture and of course, terrific food.  It was truly one of the best vacations in my life.

When I accepted a position at the University of South Carolina School of Law in August 2012, one of the things I quickly looked forward to was being able to go every so often to Charleston.  Last basketball season, I was able to see Towson play College of Charleston, but due to time constraints, I didn't have much of a chance to enjoy one of my favorite cities.

However, late this summer, I brought my family to visit Charleston for an overnight trip.  My wife and my kids immensely enjoyed this city by the water, as we took in the Aquarium, visited a plantation (with a swamp full of alligators!) and walked through Waterfront Park, The Battery and went by many historic homes.  My family quickly became fond of the second largest city in South Carolina.

When my friend, Tony Bozzella, became head coach of the Seton Hall women's basketball team, he let us know that they were playing at South Carolina on Sunday, November 17.   It also happens to be the weekend of South Carolina hosting Florida in football.   So, a group of us put plans in motion for a weekend of sports, circled around seeing our good friend, Coach Bozzella.  It was also a reunion of my Hofstra basketball trio as I would get to see Tieff and Mal.

The original plan for the sports weekend was for Mal and Tieff to fly down on Friday morning and I would show them around Columbia.  But it just so happened that the College of Charleston was hosting UNC Asheville last night.  So I had a better plan;  a night of hoops in "The Holy City".

After picking them up at Charlotte airport, I drove them back to my house here in Forest Acres, a town inside Columbia.   We then had a tasty lunch of South Carolina barbecue at my home. Afterwards, I took Mal and Tieff to check into their hotel.  Then we made the now familiar two hour drive down to "America's Most Friendly City" (as noted by Conde Nast Traveler).  

I parked in the same garage by the downtown Hampton Inn that we used for my family trip in late summer and made our way through the streets of Charleston.  After a quick dinner at a local establishment, we headed out to what my Google Maps thought where the arena was located.  We quickly realized that it was not the right direction, so thanks to a couple of helpful, female College of Charleston students, which once again proved that Charleston is "the most polite and hospitable city in America", we got to TD Arena fifteen minutes before game time.

The John Kresse Court at TD arena is nestled into the heart of the College of Charleston campus.  It opened in November of 2008 and seats 5,100 people.  The TD Arena will be hosting its sixth Charleston Classic on November 21.   The Cougars will be one of the eight teams in the tournament.  Strangely, this only the third time that the College of Charleston will have played in the tournament on its home court.  The Cougars played in the first Charleston Classic and in last season's tournament.

It was a good crowd for a drizzly Friday night.  Tieff was hoping that there was no rain this time, unlike 2008.  During the first day of action in the brand new arena, it was raining in Charleston.  And the TD Arena roof had its first leak.  It just so happened the leak was right above where Tieff was sitting and sure enough, TD Arena, sort of speak, christened Tieff.

There was one difference between last night and the previous times I had seen the College of Charleston play on John Kresse Court.  That was the CAA logo at both baskets.  The Cougars just joined the Colonial Athletic Association this fall after years of being in the Southern Conference.

Early in this college basketball season, so much has been made of the impact of freshmen like Duke's Jabari Parker, Kansas' Andrew Wiggins and Kentucky's Julius Randle.  But its not just the big name schools that have impact freshman.   UNC Asheville and College of Charleston each have a freshman leading their team in scoring.   The Bulldogs have guard Andrew Rowsey, who came into the game averaging 18 points per game. The Cougars have Rick Barry's son, Canyon Barry.  Canyon put up 36 points in a win over Charlotte.

From the outset, both freshmen made their presence known on the court.  Barry hit a layup to give Charleston a 2-0 lead.  It would be the only lead the Cougars would have for the next thirty plus minutes of game action.  After D.J Cunningham, otherwise known as "Mr. C" the rest of the night (Google it), tipped in a rebound to tie the game at two, Rowsey went to work.  He assisted on a layup, then buried a three pointer and then hit another jumper to put UNC Asheville up 9-4.  A little bit later, Rowsey hit a layup and then buried another three pointer to extend the Bulldogs lead to ten, 16-6.

After the Bulldogs went up by 13, 21-8 with about nine minutes left in the half, Barry went to work.  He would score eleven of the Cougars next thirteen points with an array of three pointers, layups, dunks and of course, trademark Rick Barry underhanded free throws.  The kicker was that entering the game, Barry was only one of seven from the free throw line.  Tieff and Mal believed that Barry had been shooting his free throws overhand in those two games and that his Dad called him to say "Us Barrys shoot their free throws underhand, son.".  Barry would go six of six shooting underhand free throws on the night.

But despite Barry's scoring prowess, the UNC Asheville lead would continue to grow.  The Bulldogs were up 31-17 with two and a half minutes to go in the half.  This was a result of largely two things.  One, Rowsey creating offense either with a long three pointer or in one case, driving to the basket, then using an old school, rec league ball fake that resulted in a defender jumping up, leaving his man open for an easy layup. The other was "Mr. C" constantly getting post feeds and backing into his man for easy post shots.  Time after time, Cunningham was able to get an open look and there were no Cougars helping out to double team the six foot ten senior center.

Meanwhile, outside of Barry, the Cougars struggled on offense.  They only shot 8 of 29 from the field in the first half and if they weren't missing a shot, Cunningham or the Bulldogs' Jaleel Roberts were blocking them.  Cunningham had six blocks in the game and Roberts added three of his own.   UNC Asheville went into the locker room up 31-21 at half.

The College of Charleston needed to change things up to start the second half.  And the Cougars' Athletics Staff  provided the student section with the necessary arsenal to distract the Bulldogs' free throw shooters; inflatable props, consisting of palm trees, blue whales, bricks and turtles.  I think the props distracted the students more than it did the free throw shooters.  Still, it was a neat touch.

Through the first three minutes of the second half, UNC Asheville maintained a double digit lead, 37-26.  Then a Barry three pointer ignited a 16-2 run, capped on layup by Joe Chealey, another talented Cougars' freshman.   College of Charleston had its first lead, 42-39, since ninety seconds into the start of the game.

Rowsey would answer with four straight points, his first points since seven minutes left in the first half and the Bulldogs went back up 43-42.  Chealey would respond with a three pointer to put the Cougars back up two, 45-43 with ten minutes left.

It was then that Bulldogs' senior Jaron Lane offensively got on track.  Lane, a redshirt senior due to an ankle injury last season and who averaged 11.5 points per game in 2011-12, had a horrible first half as he went 0 for 6 from the field, missing badly on all of his three point attempts. In fact, Lane had missed on his first seven three pointers of the season.  But over the span of nearly six minutes, Lane accounted for nine of the next eleven points UNC Asheville scored, including a three pointer that put the Bulldogs up 54-49 with 3:20 left in the game.

The Bulldogs looked like they were going onto victory as the Cougars had not hit a field goal since eight and a half minutes left in the second half.   But some teams can't stand prosperity and the Bulldogs went away from their Rowsey dribble drive/Cunningham post game and went into a stall, with either Rowsey or Corey Littlejohn dribbling at the top of the key and Cunningham all the way over into a corner.  Their possessions ended up in badly taken shots, or in the case of Lane, a turnover.

As a result, UNC Asheville would not score another point the rest of the second half.   However, the College of Charleston barely took advantage.  First, Anthony Thomas hit a jumper to cut the lead to three, 54-51.  After missing on two consecutive possessions, the third time was the charge as Chealey setup Willis Hall nicely for a game tying three pointer with thirty five seconds left in the game.   The Bulldogs failed to score on their last possession and the game went into overtime tied at fifty four.

In the overtime period, the Bulldogs went back to the offense they unwisely had abandoned late in the second half.   On post plays, Cunningham, sorry, Mr. C hit two consecutive jumpers to put UNC Asheville up 58-54.  Adjehl Baru, who had a double of twelve points and thirteen rebounds, hit a jumper of his own to cut the Bulldogs lead to two, 58-56.  But on the next Cougars' possession, Baru missed a possible game tying jumper.  Rowsey responded with a jumper to put UNC Asheville back up four, 60-56.

As was the case for most of the game, the Cougars were ice cold from the floor down the stretch and Chealey and Thomas both missed easy layups that could have cut the deficit to two points.  From there, the Bulldogs iced the game hitting seven of eight free throws.  Meanwhile, Chealey had the last two points for the Cougars, but missed on two shots to end the game.  The Bulldogs got their first win of the season, a hard fought 67-58 overtime win.

The Bulldogs shot forty six percent from the field and fourteen of fifteen from the charity stripe.  Rowsey led all scorers with twenty three points on eight of eleven shooting from the field, including three of six from beyond the arc.  Lane scored thirteen points after the first twenty minutes.  Mr. C had a double double of twelve points and ten rebounds to go with his six blocks.

The Cougars had eighteen more field goal attempts than the Bulldogs, due to only six turnovers and forcing fourteen Bulldogs' turnovers.  Yet Charleston hit two less shots than UNC Asheville (22 to 24).  The Cougars were also a frigid five of twenty seven from beyond the arc.  Barry led Charleston with eighteen points, but he was only five of seventeen from the field, including two of nine from beyond the arc.  Baru had his double double and Chealey added ten points.

We said goodbye to "The Holy City" and made the two hour trip back to Mal and Tieff's hotel in downtown, Columbia.  Day one of our sports weekend was complete.  Day two is just beginning.

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