Riller Leads The Way With 26 Pts., Cougars Kick Off Season With A Win
By: Jeff Walker, Sports Writer
After the College of Charleston men's basketball team flexed their hoops ability in a 91-67 exhibition win over Nebraska Wesleyan last week, the Cougars began their regular season hosting USC Upstate on Tuesday night. The Spartans out of the Big South gave CofC a formidable contest before falling late, with Charleston coming out on top 74-55 before 4000 fans at TD Arena. The Cougars pick up their first win on the 2019-20 season and improve to 17-2 in home openers since the 1991-92 season, including a 6-0 mark under sixth year coach Earl Grant.
Up by just three point at the half, Coach Grant expected Upstate to be tough. "Give USC Upstate credit. They came to play. They did some good things in the first 10 minutes of the game by rebounding the ball. We made them miss, but they had seven offensive rebounds in the first half."
It was the Grant Riller show for the first 20 minutes of play as the senior guard scored 18 of his game high 26 points in the first half, with the Cougars holding on to a narrow three point margin at the break. Riller would have help from his team mates in the final 20 minutes, with the big men stepping up, including Sam Miller and Osinachi Smart who combined for 21 of the teams 43 rebounds and 10 points collectively.
Riller said it felt good to get back on the court and notch their first victory. "It felt good. We waited all summer for this. It was good to get back out there. Obviously, we were a little nervous with the first game of the year. Once we got comfortable and settled down, everything took care of itself."
Both teams were lackluster early on with the home team trailing 8-7 after six minutes of play. An 8-0 run by the Cougars including two buckets by Riller put them up 15-8 with 11:20 remaining. Upstate rallied with their own 8-0 run to retake the lead, with just over eight minutes on the clock. A 3-pointer by Upstate's Tommy Bruner tied the contest for a seventh time at 31 apiece. A layup by CofC's Trevon Reddish as time expired gave Charleston a 36-33 lead at the break.
The Cougars appeared to control the tempo of the game in the second half, slowly building to a double digit lead after a dunk by Miller made it 46-36 after five minutes had gone by in the period. CofC continued to pour it on extending the margin to 22 points at the 3:54 mark.
Defense was the difference in the second half with the Cougars holding the Spartans to just 22 points. After knocking down five 3-pointers in the first half Upstate made just 1 of 7 from long range, shooting just 30 percent in the final 20 minutes of play. Charleston managed to protect the glass as well, out-rebounding Upstate 43-31, hauling in 11 offensive boards overall.
Grant added CofC made adjustments during intermission. "We corrected that at halftime. They had one in the second half. The big key to the game was for us to hold them to 19-to-20 points in the second half. It also had to do with defensive rebounding and finishing the possession. I'm proud of our guys' effort. I thought we did some good things. But, there are still a lot of things we can learn and clean up for the next one."
Riller got help from Brevin Galloway who made good on 3 of 5 from the floor, going 4 of 4 from the line for 10 points. Zep Jasper played well finishing with nine points including one from beyond the arc. Jaylen Richard and Miller added eight points apiece respectively for the Cougars.
Bruner lead Upstate with 14 points adding 3 of 5 from down town. Brandon Martin finished with 13 points, hauling in a team high eight rebounds for the Spartans. Martin is the son of Gamecocks Head Coach Frank Martin, who was in attendance to watch his son play. The Spartans fall to 0-1 after the their first contest on the young season.
For the College of Charleston to maintain the momentum and have a strong season, they must rely on the big men to step up. Miller agrees with the coaching staffs assessment.
"I was trying to focus on doing my job on defense first. Coach Grant really likes his 5's to be the anchor on defense. I am out there trying to talk and do my job a lot. Coach J.D. Powell (Associate Coach) had been on me about rebounding, so I tried to make that a point in hitting the glass tonight."
The Cougars will continue their three-game homestand with 2019 NCAA Tournament participant Georgia State on Nov. 9 at TD Arena. Tickets can be purchased by calling(843) 953-COFC or online at: www.CofCSports.com/tickets