Riller Scores 24 Pts, Cougs Advance To Play Northeastern
By: Jeff Walker, Sports Writer
After finishing the regular season 23-8 and 12-6 in the Colonial Athletic Association, the College of Charleston men's basketball team earned the three seed in the tournament along with a first round bye. With eight days to prepare for CAA Tournament held for a final time at the North Charleston Coliseum (part of a three year deal), the Cougars were in rare form as they slayed the Dragons of Drexel University 73-61 on Sunday night, advancing to take on second seeded Northeastern, in a rematch of what was the title game last season.
CofC Junior guard Grant Riller lead all scorers making good on 10 of 16 from the floor, adding four from the free throw line for 24 points. Riller had help from senior power forward Jarrell Brantley who pumped in 16 points. Charleston got 24 points from the bench with Sam Miller accounting for half of that total, including two from long range. Brantley and Miller would haul in a team best seven rebounds apiece.
A transfer player who sat out almost half the season, Miller scored in double figures for just the fourth time in a Cougar uniform. CofC Head Coach Earl Grant said Miller's talent is justified. "Sam played well. He got eligible in December. He is one of the harder guys to guard in practice, because of his size and skill level. He definitely stepped up tonight and gave us a great lift off the bench."
The Dragons tripped the scoreboard first, before the Cougars ran off 14 unanswered. When Alihan Demir made one from the foul line, the Cougars were up 14-3 after seven minutes of play. It was all CofC moving forward as Charleston went up 20-8 midway thru the period. Shooting just 32 percent from the floor in the first 20 minutes of action, Drexel trailed at the half 38-24.
The team from Philadelphia recharged their batteries during the break and came out with renewed energy. Drexel hit 6 of 7 from the floor out of the gate, cutting the Charleston lead to seven points on several occasions. After Miller made his second from range and Riller added a deuce, CofC was us 57-45 with just over 10 minutes remaining in the contest.
A dunk by Drexel's James Butler would bring the Cougar lead to just seven (65-58) for one final time with 2:13 showing on the clock. But the Cougars would not be denied with Riller capping off the night with a dunk and two from the foul line, providing the Cougars with a 12 point margin of victory. With the win the Cougars improve to 24-8 on the year.
Charleston played only one game in their final week of the season allowing for more time to practice and get healthy heading into the tournament. Coach Grant said his players stepped up. "It was just our second game in 14 days. We came out with great intensity, defended really hard and rebounded the ball really well. I'm proud of their effort. We found a way to win the game. That's what you are trying to do this time of year, advance."
Despite the loss Drexel got solid scoring from four of their starters. Butler lead the way making 7 of 10 for 14 points. Camren Wynter finished with 12 points, with Matey Juric and Demir adding 11 and 10 points respectively. The Dragons end their season with an overall 13-19 record.
Although Charleston was up by 14 points at intermission Riller didn't expect Drexel to lay down in the second half. "It was the flow of the game. Everybody can make a run. They (Drexel) punched us in the mouth. We did a good job of getting off the mat." Riller added miscues didn't help. "We didn't take care of the ball too well, me personally. But, we were able to push through it and come out with the win in the end."
Charleston will face second-seeded Northeastern (21-10) at 8:30 p.m. (ET) Monday night. NU advanced with an 80-59 win over UNC Wilmington. The CofC vs. NU contest will be a rematch of last year's overtime championship game. Monday's game will be televised nationally on CBS Sports Network. Single-game tickets for the tournament can be purchased at the North Charleston Coliseum Box Office or online at: www.Ticketmaster.com