Last season, the holidays were anything but joyous for the College of Charleston’s women’s basketball team. The semester break saw them mired in a seven-game losing streak that included a devastating overtime loss to Central Michigan at a tournament in New Orleans.
But, despite having an almost identical roster to last season, this is an entirely new team.
After gutting out a tense 58-56 win over Georgia Southern, the Cougars have won five of their last six and have a perfect 3-0 mark to start their final season in the Southern Conference.
Charleston (7-5, 3-0) opened SoCon play 2-7 last season before finally picking up their third conference win on Jan. 21. The Cougars’ win on Saturday also tied their win total from all of last season, when they finished 7-23, 6-14 in the SoCon.
“It doesn’t matter what you did a year ago,” said first-year head coach Natasha Adair after the game. “It doesn’t matter what you did last game.
“Was it perfect? Not at all. But down the stretch, we made plays. We got key stops when we needed to. A big charge (drawn) by Cathryn Hardy, a finish by Afreyea (Tolbert), a big rebound by Tish (Latisha Harris). I’m just proud of our team.”
It wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t easy. The Eagles trailed by 19 points early in the second half, and by 16 with just under five minutes to play. But, suddenly, the Eagles couldn’t miss.
Three-pointer. Two free throws. A layup. Two more free throws. A steal and another three. Two more free throws, a block and another from the line. All without missing. All with defensive stops on the other end. Georgia Southern cut a 16-point lead to three in less than three minutes, and took a one-point lead with 45 seconds to play.
Harris stopped the onslaught and put the Cougars back ahead with a layup with 32 seconds to play, and Hardy drew the charge on the next play. Harris locked up the game, and her fifth double-double of the season, when she came down with MiMi DuBose’s wayward layup attempt as time expired.
Harris, the Cougars’ senior center, once again provided the backbone of the Cougars’ success, with 14 points and 10 rebounds, both team highs. She was plagued by foul trouble, though. She was limited to 24 minutes because of her four fouls, and was forced to the bench for long stretches of the second half.
While Harris was sidelined, Jillian Brown and Hardy carried the load. Brown, who began the day 10th in NCAA Division I in assists, only scored four points, but she had 11 assists and five steals, against only four turnovers. Hardy had 11 points, nine rebound and two blocks.
The missed shot at the end of the game was one of the few mistakes DuBose made on Saturday. GSU’s junior guard finished with 27 points on 8-of-16 shooting, and added right rebounds. Her backcourt mate Meredyth Frye had 18 points, 11 rebounds and a team-high four assists.
“You get into conference, and you don’t know what it going to look like, because all conference games are going to be a dogfight,” Adair said. “When we had to, we had it.”
It will be a quick turnaround for the Cougars, who host Davidson (5-7, 2-0) at 7 p.m. Monday at TD Arena. They will follow that with a weekend road trip to Samford and Chattanooga. The Lady Mocs of Chattanooga are currently a SoCon-best 10-2, and are 39th in RealTimeRPI.com’s ranking of all 345 Division I women’s basketball teams.