Last Minute Plays By Riller Help Secure Victory For Cougars.
By: Jeff Walker, Sports Writer
Coming off a hard fought 17 point win over JMU on Thursday night, the contest against Towson appeared to be easier challenge for the College of Charleston men's basketball team. But the Tigers brought every bit of a battle with them to TD Arena as they fought to the very end, before the Cougars emerged with a 54-53 win in front of 4194 elated home town fans. With the win CofC extend their current winning streak to four games and improve to 7-4 in the CAA and 18-6 overall.
Although their record didn't look impressive coming into the matchup, CofC Head Coach Earl Grant expected a knock down, drag out battle. "They (Towson) played hard and they rebounded the ball. Coach (Skerry) had his team prepared and ready to play. They had won three out of four. I knew it was going to be a tough one. I’m just happy our guys were able to sustain their spirit and didn’t wilt. They did a great job of finding a way to get it done.”
Now past the midway mark for the CAA regular season Coach Grant doesn't expect it to get easier and is thankful for any kind of victory. “Winning is hard. Sometimes you need to appreciate it. When you have a three-or-four game win streak or win 10 in a row. It may look easy sometimes, but winning is hard. This team has its own personality. This is the first year this team has been together in terms of the collection of the group. We are trying to form who we are. A game like tonight helps us with that. We have to keep trying to get better everyday, stay the course and try to run through the tape, so we can be at our best at the end of the season.”
Trailing by four points in the final minute the Cougars rallied beyond junior guard Grant Riller who hit from beyond the arc with 36 seconds remaining, following that up with a baseline layup that gave CofC the lead with 15 seconds left to play. After a Towson timeout the Tigers missed a forced jumper with the ensuing put back rebounding off the rim as time expired. Riller who had an off night finished with a game high tying 12 points, including 2 of 5 from long range. Jarrell Brantley who usually hits for double figures managed just seven points on 3 of 13 from the floor. Towson was all over the senior forward making it tough for him to get open and move to the basket.
CofC team mate Zep Jasper connected on 4 of 5 from beyond the arc, all in the first half for his 12 points. Coming in off the bench, Jasper not only provided a much needed spark on offense, but admitted he took advantage of his chance. “I was feeling it in the first half. I was feeling like I was on fire. I felt like I couldn’t miss a shot. When they tell me to shoot the ball, that’s what I do is shoot. I just knew every shot was going in when I took it.”
With the Tigers keying on Riller, Jasper found his mark. “Coming into the game, we knew it was going to be a tough game. We knew Jarrell and G (Riller) were struggling when the game first started. There really were no fouls called on us. It was an up-and-down paced game. They tell me all the time to, ‘be ready to shoot and be ready to score.’ The team was locked in on him (Riller) and I was ready from the jump.”
Despite going up by as many as nine points in the first half, Charleston held just a two point margin (29-27) heading into the locker room at the break. The Cougars weren't able to put any distance between their opponents in the second half as well. After scoring four straight points for a six point advantage, the Tigers rallied with seven unanswered for their first lead of the contest.
CofC would regain the lead, up by five points with just over eight minutes left to play only to find the contest tied at 45 all after Townson's Brian Fobbs dunked with 5:43 showing on the clock. A 6-2 surge by the Tigers found them in control 51-47 with 3:06 left to play. That's when Riller took control. A layup in the paint cut the lead to just two points. Towson answered with a short jumper by Tobias Howard at the 1:20 mark. Riller would double down firing a long range missile and following up with a well executed layup from and assist by Sam Miller to clinch the victory for the home team.
Miller said Coach Grant designed the final play. “Coach Grant drew up the play in the huddle and Grant (Riller) came up to me as we were going down the court and he said, ‘I’m going.’ I just knew to be decisive, and when I saw the guy’s head turn, I threw it where he couldn’t get it. Grant had some good hands to keep it inbounds and finish the layup.”
The Cougars sweep the series against Towson, with the Tigers falling to 8-16 on the season and 4-7 in league play. The Tigers had two players finish with double figures. Howard and Allen Betrand each scored 10 apiece for Towson, with both knocking down two each from long range.
CofC now take their four game winning streak on the road. The Cougars will hit the road next week for a two-game conference road swing at Delaware and Drexel. CofC will open that stretch with the Blue Hens (14-10, 6-5 CAA) on Thursday, Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. (ET) in Newark, Del.