WILMINGTON, North Carolina (UNCWSports.com) – The College of Charleston’s unbeaten streak at home is still intact. Barely.
Senior guard Joe Cheeley’s two free throws with six seconds left finally gave the Cougars the breathing room they needed to squeeze past rival UNCW, 80-76, in the first men’s basketball matchup of the two Colonial Athletic Association rivals this season on Thursday night at TD Arena.
The Cougars (13-6, 4-3) stayed perfect at home with a clean 9-0 mark after surviving a furious comeback by their rivals up the coast in the second half. UNCW (5-14, 2-5) lost its second straight contest after suffering an overtime setback to Northeastern last Saturday.
“I’m proud of my team’s effort in the second half,” said UNCW Head Coach C.B. McGrath, who faced the Cougars for the first time. “Obviously, we didn’t put two halves together. We got behind too much. You have to play a perfect half when you’re down 17 to a good team. They’re not the preseason favorites for nothing.
“You have to give them credit. They made the shots they had to at the end. They made some deep three’s. They only made four three’s in the second half, but they were all far out. We played the way we want to play in the second half. Hopefully, we can build on how we feel about our second half performance going forward.”
Cheeley anchored Charleston’s balanced scoring attack with 18 points as all five Cougar starters reached double digits. Junior forward Jarrell Brantley and sophomore guard Grant Riller added 16 points, senior guard Cameron Johnson collected 11 points and junior forward Nick Harris had 10.
Redshirt sophomore guard Ty Taylor of UNCW scored 23 points to lead all scorers in the contest, including 17 in the second half as the Seahawks rallied down the stretch.
Junior forward Devontae Cacok, the nation’s leading rebounder, racked up 20 points and 13 rebounds, recording his 14th double-double of the season and 27th of his career. Senior guard Jordon Talley contributed 18 points and eight assists.
Charleston used two big runs early in the first half to build a double-digit advantage and kept the Seahawks at bay early in the second half before the Seahawks stormed back.
Still trailing 55-38 with 17 minutes remaining, the Seahawks cut into the large lead with an 8-0 spurt over 2:22 and Taylor’s bucket closed the gap to 55-44 at 13:48.
The Seahawks chopped the lead to seven points, 61-54 on Talley’s teardrop down the middle at 9:26, but the Cougars answered on a deep three-pointer by Cheeley on the next possession.
Another triple by Cheeley with 4:31 to go kept the lead at 73-65 before the Seahawks surged again. The Seahawks used a 10-2 run and climbed within 73-71 with 1:32 remaining on a trifecta by Jaylen Fornes on the left wing.
Charleston was clinging to a 78-74 edge with under 20 seconds left to play when Cacok scored inside with seven seconds on the clock. But Cheeley stepped to the line to seal the win with his clutch free throws and help the Cougars avenge a loss to their closest rivals in the CAA in last year’s CAA championship game.
In the first half, the Seahawks jumped out to a 10-6 edge four minutes into the contest before the Cougars caught up with the first of two big runs. Cacok converted a layup at 15:41 to put UNCW on top early, but Charleston rattled off 14 unanswered points over the next 2:23 to bolt ahead.
Harris made two straight buckets and Jaylen McManus added a basket near the rim as Charleston completed its surge to double up the Seahawks, 20-10, at 13:10.
The Seahawks scored nine out of the next 11 points to close the gap to 22-19 behind Cacok and Talley. Cacok had three straight buckets in the rally, including a layup with 11:38 left that pulled the Seahawks within three points.
But Cacok picked up his second personal and the Cougars capitalized, answering with another big run – this time 17-3 – to pour it on. Brantley’s layup with 4:54 left in the opening half capped the spurt and Charleston led, 39-22.
The Cougars wound up with a 48-31 advantage at the break after shooting 54.8 percent on 17-of-31 field goals, including 6-of-11 from long distance.
Talley (13), Cacok (12) and Ty Taylor (6) were the only players to score for the Seahawks in the first 20 minutes. The remainder of the team went 0-for-7 from the floor.
The Seahawks return to Trask Coliseum to open a three-game homestand on Saturday against Towson in a 7 p.m. tip-off. The Cougars entertain Hofstra on Sunday at 4 p.m. in their next outing.
GAME NOTES: UNCW still leads the 25-game series by a narrow 13-12 margin…The Seahawks have won eight of the last 10 meetings between the two teams…Charleston is the only CAA team unbeaten at home…Brantley and Johnson each went over 1,000 points in their careers at CofC. Brantley now has 1,015 points, while Johnson has scored 1,007…The last six matchups in the series have been decided by single digits…UNCW had 10 turnovers in the first half and only five after the break…The Seahawks had 10 offensive rebounds…There was only one lead change in the contest…The Cougars scored 14 points off turnovers…Charleston snapped a three-game losing streak to UNCW at home.