Senior leader Andrew Lawrence kicked off his final season at the College of Charleston in style, leading the Cougars with 14 points in a 68-52 exhibition win over USC Aiken.
As Lawrence’s time at College of Charleston winds down, head coach Doug Wojcik’s time is only just beginning.
Wojcik commenced his era at the College Saturday evening at TD Arena in front of an anxious crowd, eager to see what the change will mean for the program. The Cougars did not disappoint.
Charleston’s offense was well-spread, with great help coming from transfer Anthony Thomas and the return of Willis Hall. Both had nine points, with Hall adding eight rebounds.
Hall, returning from a debilitating knee injury that kept him out of the 2011-2012 season, received a standing ovation from fans during his first break from the action.
“At the end of the day, Willis has nine points and eight rebounds. He a pretty productive guy coming off the bench as your first big. I’m glad to see it,” Wojcik said after the game.
“Anthony Thomas is a big-time player,” Lawrence said of the transfer from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. “We expect a lot out of him this year, so I’m really excited to see how he progresses this year.”
Trent Wiedeman did not disappoint on the boards, pulling down 12. Adjehi Baru had six boards, including three on the offensive glass.
The Cougars showed off a new defensive look and intensity in the first half, holding the Pacers to only 28.6 percent shooting from the field.
Although the Cougars looked aggressive on offense, driving to the basket and drawing fouls from Aiken, they could not convert at the line, making on 8-of-18 free throws in the half, allowing the Pacers to keep close.
“There’s a lot of new guys to the line, a few freshman out there shooting today — myself, I missed one — but we’ll get it together,” Lawrence said. “I’m sure by the time the season rolls around next week, we’ll convert those.”
Redshirting freshman Canyon Barry, son of NBA Hall of Famer Rick Barry, made his first appearance late in the first, capping the half with a three-pointer at the buzzer that pushed Charleston’s advantage to 33-24.
Thomas exploded in the second half, tallying the first six points for the Cougars. Help from the bigs extended the Cougar’s lead to 21, holding Aiken to only two points in the half at the 14-minute mark.
Cramping plagued Charleston’s guards, allowing for help from the bench in the form of Nori Johnson. The Cougar bench combined for 25 points on the evening, including Johnson’s eight.
The Pacers made a late surge with back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the lead to 15 points, but an alley-oop from Johnson to Wiedeman woke the crowd up at the five-minute mark.
Lawrence checked back in after sitting with a hamstring cramp for the middle of the second half, hitting a big three and knocking down a free throw.
With the Cougars comfortably ahead of the Pacers in the final minute of play, Wojcik emptied the bench, finishing the game with Bart Benton, Chad Cooke, Harrison Bowne and Willis Hall’s younger brother Judson on the court.
Ronald Zimmerman lead the Pacers, putting up 14 points including a perfect 5-of-5 from the line.
Charleston’s free throw percentage was much improved in the second half, jumping to 64.7 percent. The Cougars shot an impressive 53.8 percent from beyond the arc, adding seven three-pointers including three for Lawrence.
“It was a big step forward for us today,” Lawrence said after the game. “I was really impressed with the way we played defense, and we’re just going to try and keep getting better.”
Though Wojcik was pleased with the overall performance, he admitted there were things that needed improvement.
“We’ve got to rebound the ball better, particularly from the guard spots,” Wojcik said. “I thought we handled pressure pretty well, although (we had) 17 turnovers, so taking care of the basketball. But the biggest thing is the free throws.”
Both College of Charleston basketball teams open the regular season Friday at home in a basketball doubleheader. Charleston’s women’s team opens its season at 4 p.m. against Coastal Carolina, followed by the men’s game against Towson at 7:30 p.m.