|Cougars Claw Past Seahawks, 75-70|
CHARLESTON, South Carolina – Hot-shooting Nori Johnson carried the College of Charleston with his long range shooting in the first half and Anthony Thomas hit several critical shots late as the Cougars, edged UNCW, 75-70, in the first Colonial Athletic Association game between the two regional rivals Wednesday night at TD Arena.
The Cougars improved to 11-9 this season and 3-2 in the CAA after winning for the sixth time in 11 tries on their home floor.
Johnson, a senior guard from Greer, S.C, paced the Cougars with a game-high 23 points, including 15 in the opening 20 minutes. He wound up 7-of-9 from the floor and 7-of-8 behind the arc. Senior forward Willis Hall chipped in 12 and Thomas had 11 for the Cougars, who overcame a furious charge by the Seahawks with 54.2 percent shooting in the second half.
Junior forward Cedrick Williams (22 points) and senior guard Chris Dixon (21 points) gave the Seahawks a pair of 20-point scorers for the first time since Addison Spruill and Tanner Milson turned the trick at Liberty on Nov. 18. It was a season-high for Dixon in the scoring column and his fifth straight game in double figures after the Montgomery, Ala., torched the Cougars for 16 points in the final period.
The Seahawks dropped their 10th consecutive game to fall to 6-15 overall and 0-6 in the CAA, matching the longest losing streak in the program’s history. The 2008-09 club lost 10 in a row before downing Delaware, 75-72, on Jan. 7, 2009 in Wilmington.
It was UNCW’s first appearance against the Cougars in TD Arena, although the Seahawks played in the four-year-old facility as a participant in the Charleston Classic early in the 2010 campaign.
“I loved the effort, but we had some crucial turnovers in the first half, and need to make some stops at crunch time,” said fourth-year Head Coach Buzz Peterson. “We came out in the second half, played aggressive and did some nice things.
“I knew Nori Johnson was capable and he hurt us with those deep shots early. We need a win in the worst way and our kids played well enough for a win tonight.”
After building a 30-23 lead at the break behind Johnson, who made 6-of-7 field goal attempts in the first half, the Cougars watched as the Seahawks cut into the lead early in the final period and eventually tie the game before holding on the final minutes.
The 6-5 Johnson hit two free throws with just over 14 minutes remaining to give CofC a 45-40 advantage before the Seahawks finally tied the score, 52-all, on two free throws by Williams.
But Thomas converted a runner along the left baseline and Johnson swished his seventh and final triple to push the lead back to five points. A floater by Anthony Stitt and two free throws by Adjehi Baru then pushed the deficit back to 68-59 at the 4:15 mark.
The Seahawks made one last push behind Dixon, who drained a long three in front of the Seahawk bench with 52 seconds remaining. UNCW forced a miss by Stitt with 19 seconds left, but Joe Chealey grabbed the rebound and iced the game with a pair of free throws four seconds later to send the Seahawks home with another difficult defeat.
Johnson was on fire in the first half, connecting on all six of his three-point field goal attempts as the two teams renewed their rivalry for the first time since 2008 - this time as conference foes.
The veteran for CofC drained five consecutive triples to help the Cougars build a 20-8 lead with just under 12 minutes left in the first half. Johnson’s fifth trey with 11:39 remaining gave CofC a 12-point cushion and drew a quick timeout from Peterson.
The Cougars extended the margin to 13 points, 22-9, on a Theo Johnson bucket in the lane before the Seahawks regrouped to slice the deficit to seven points at intermission. Graduate guard Ben Eblen, playing near his hometown of Isle of Palms, S.C., scored five points as UNCW used a 10-3 spurt to close the gap to 25-19 with 5:11 left to play.
The Cougars still led, 30-21, before forcing a turnover in the front of the Seahawk bench and Dixon’s layup with seven seconds remaining in the half kept UNCW within striking distance.
UNCW is idle until next Wednesday when the Seahawks return to action with a 7 p.m. rematch against Towson at Trask Coliseum. CofC travels to James Madison on Saturday for a 2 p.m. clash with the Dukes at the JMU Convocation Center.
GAME NOTES: The Cougars lead the all-time series by a 10-4 margin…UNCW has not won since a 69-51 decision over Campbell on Dec. 3, 2012…The Seahawks are now 3-9 on the road this season and have lost five straight away from home…The Cougars went 19-of-27 at the free throw line…CofC built a 33-26 edge in rebounding…CofC skipper Doug Wojcik used just eight players…Wojcik has never lost to UNCW as a player at Navy (8-0) and coach at CofC (1-0)…The Cougars had 12 steals…UNCW shot 34.8 percent in the first half and 60 percent after intermission…The Seahawks went 6-of-12 behind the arc…Eblen started and finished with nine points on 4-of-7 field goals and three assists before family and friends…Thomas scored nine of his 11 points in the second half for CofC.