All week long, College of Charleston’s Anthony Thomas told anyone who would listen that Wednesday night’s matchup against Appalachian State was just another game for him.
Thomas scored a career-high 14 points while adding seven rebounds and three blocks against his former team as the Cougars cruised past the Mountaineers, 72-59, before a crowd of 3,530 at TD Arena.
The Cougars, winners of three straight, improved to 15-7 overall and 7-3 in the Southern Conference. The Mountaineers fell to 8-12 and 4-5.
Thomas began his collegiate career at Appalachian State, but played in just eight games as a freshman before transferring to Hutchinson Community College in Kansas a season ago. This was the first time he’d faced his old team since signing with the Cougars last year.
Andrew Lawrence, who led Charleston with 16 points, noticed the normally laid-back Thomas was a little more emotional than usual when the Cougars took the floor.
“I know he was really worked up before the game,” Lawrence said. “He’s a pretty calm guy, so he tried not to let it show, but you could tell this was an important game for him. It’s got to be tough to go up against your old school, so I was glad he played so well against them.”
After the game, Thomas stopped to talk to several of his old teammates.
“There are still a lot of guys on the team I know,” Thomas said. “I still have friends over there, but I tried to treat it like any other game. I think I’m past that whole thing with Appalachian State.”
Charleston coach Doug Wojcik made a point of getting Thomas involved early offensively, going inside to the 6-7 junior forward on the first possession of the game.
“I felt like this was Anthony’s night,” Wojcik said. “We go right at him the first play and he gets a bucket. Anthony was terrific tonight. He had a very good all-around game and played really poised, but that’s the way he’s played lately. He’s been really, really consistent. A lot of people think he’s our X-factor and I would agree with that.”
The Cougars put on a passing clinic all night, handing out 16 assists to just eight turnovers. Anthony Stitt, who finished with 10 points and seven rebounds, had six assists and Lawrence added four. But the best passing might have come from the Cougars’ post players.
Adjehi Baru had a career-high four assists and Willis Hall and Trent Wiedeman spread the ball around when they were double-teamed in the paint.
“There’s not a coach in America that wouldn’t take a 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio,” Wojcik said.
“Give Trent and Adjehi a lot of credit. We knew they were going to double-team us in the post and we practiced against it. Those guys really delivered out of the double-team.”
For the second straight game, the Cougars shut down an opponent in the second half, while shooting better than 50 percent from the floor. The Mountaineers made just 10 of 33 shots from the floor over the final 20 minutes. The Mountaineers’ top scorer, Nathan Healy, managed just five points, nine off his season average of more than 14.
“I thought we wore them down in the second half and Anthony (Thomas) played very well defensively,” Wojcik said.
Appalachian State used a 12-2 run late in the first half to grab a 25-17 advantage on two free throws from Chris Burgess. But the Cougars answered to pull within 35-33 at halftime.
It was all Cougars in the second half, who outscored the Mountaineers, 39-24, over the final 20 minutes.
“It just feels nice to play well at home,” Wojcik said.