Dunk by Wiggins, jumper by Baru, 3 from Lawrence and a jumper from Wiedeman. Just like that, the College of Charleston raced out to a 9-0 lead over Holy Cross on Friday night at TD Arena.
If only the rest of the game could have been that simple.
The Cougars held on for a 78-69 win over the Crusaders after leading their persistent Patriot League foes by as many as 24 points in the first half.
Antwaine Wiggins, the Cougars’ lone senior, led the team with 18 points and seven rebounds, while sophomore Trent Wiedeman had 15 points, a game-high 10 rebounds and three blocks.
Highly touted freshman Adjehi Baru had an efficient 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting, and added eight rebounds and two blocks, but appeared to fade out of prominence as the game wore on. He recorded only one point in the last 19 minutes of the game, and languished on seven rebounds for much of the second half.
Andrew Lawrence, who has been selected to play for England in the London Olympics next summer, made three 3s among his 16 points, but was hobbled by cramps for long stretches of the second half.
Sophomore Jordan Scott and freshman Anthony Stitt both had nine points.
The Cougars led on almost every column of the box score, but an ugly free-throw disparity allowed the Crusaders to stay close. The Cougars went to the line 42 times, but only connected on 27 of those shots, good for only 64.3%. Holy Cross only took 23 shots, but connected on 19, for 82.6%.
But throughout the second half, and even though the game never got closer than nine point, the Cougars seemed on the brink of collapse.
“The first half, we looked like a basketball team. And then the second half, at times all heck broke loose,” said head coach Bobby Cremins. “We had 14 turnovers (in the second half). Now, Andrew Lawrence got cramps. Obviously, that was a major factor. So (Stitt) had to come in and take over the game. This is a kid who I thought would be a backup for two years. But he’s a gutty a little kid.
“We were in trouble with Andrew out of the game. Jordan Scott, who is doing so well offensively, he got careless. We got very careless with the basketball. I don’t know if we just took things for granted. It was just disappointing that we didn’t play like we played in the first half. We didn’t execute the way I wanted us to in the second half. I think we got rattled. So that gives us a great opportunity to work on something.”
For the players, it was a win, and a chance to start the season – of, for some of them, their collegiate career – on the right foot.
“I felt great out there,” Baru said. “I played well on the court. I tried to do my best and do what I learned in practice. I really learned from the two exhibition games we played. I just wanted to play, contribute in the game and help my teammates win a game.”
Wiedeman was wary of the team’s letdown in the second half, but liked the Cougars’ new emphasis on post play.
“We are an inside-out team,” he said. “Adjehi (Baru) and I got a lot of touches. We get our touches, but when we are doubled on, the guards get their touches, too, because we kick it out. We are definitely a young team, but we can’t make excuses. We can’t let a team come back like that (in the second half). We have to keep fighting and keep our intensity up, keep taking it to our opponents in the second half.”
For now, the Cougars’ focus shifts to Morehead State, the team that handed the Cougars their most humbling loss last season, and an early morning wakeup call. The Morehead game will be at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, as part of ESPN’s Tip-off Marathon, celebrating the first full week of the season.
“I know it’s tough (on the fans), but if we can have that same type of atmosphere Tuesday morning as we had tonight, it would be fantastic,” said Cremins. “It would really be fantastic.”