When men’s basketball head coach Doug Wojcik elected to start senior shooting guard Nori Johnson for the first time last Sunday, it was primarily for his defense and outside shooting. So when Johnson shot 0-7 from the field and collected 5 fouls in that loss to Towson, some speculated Wojcik might have been hesitant to start Johnson again in Wednesday night’s game vs. UNC Wilmington. Luckily for the Cougars, Johnson did get a second straight start and had a major bounce back performance in Charleston’s 75-70 win over the Seahawks.
Johnson got going early, hitting his first five attempts from beyond the arc to fuel Charleston (11-9, 3-2) to an early 22-9 lead midway through the first half. As halftime approached, Wilmington drew within three, but Johnson nailed his sixth three ball of the night and Charleston went into the half with a seven-point advantage.
The Cougars were thankful for Johnson’s hot play in the first half, as the rest of the team struggled offensively, turning the ball over 10 times in the first 20 minutes of play. Johnson accounted for 18 of the team’s 30 first half points and was a perfect 6-6 from three-point range.
For a team who has not won since Dec. 3, Wilmington (6-15, 0-6) came out of halftime with confidence, using an 11-4 run to cut the Cougars’ lead to two. The combination of forward Cedric Williams and guard Ben Eblen served as the catalysts for the Seahawks’ offense during the run. Interestingly enough, Eblen is a Charleston area native and Wilmington head coach Buzz Peterson gave him the start in front of his family and friends.
But the Cougars spoiled Eblen’s homecoming, showing that they were determined not to be the team to end Wilmington’s misery. The combination of forwards Willis Hall and Anthony Thomas held off the Seahawks’ comeback. Hall scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half, while Thomas scored nine of his 11 after halftime.
With just under 20 seconds remaining and the Cougars clinging to a three-point lead, Anthony Sitt missed a jumper, but recovered the ball in a scramble for the rebound, as Wilmington lost their opportunity to potentially tie the game.
“A game of ebbs and flows, highs and lows, give our guys a lot of credit, particularly Nori [Johnson],” said Wojcik. “We played a great first half and then started to throw the ball around the gym, but in the end we made some plays down the stretch. Great win for us in league play, its what league play should be, a fight every night.”
Johnson finished the night with 23 points on 7-8 shooting from the arc. When he was asked about his great performance, Johnson kept it simple, “I started feeling it and I’m glad they went in. I’m glad we got the win.”
Charleston now hits the road for two games as they travel to James Madison on Saturday, followed by a visit to William & Mary on Monday. They will be back home on Feb. 1 to take on Hofstra, which is the Homecoming game as part of Hall of Fame Weekend.