SAPAKOFF COLUMN: College of Charleston's March Madness run depends on body parts
The College of Charleston basketball team stood and sang before the student section as the band played the alma mater Saturday. Sadly, the class act was one of the only things that went right for the Cougars after halftime at TD Arena during a 55-52 loss to Gardner-Webb.
For the Cougars, a 20-win team aiming for a Southern Conference championship in their last year in the league, this hurts.
It was a Bracketbuster home game against an inferior foe. The Runnin' Bulldogs, though a scrappy 18-11, rode in from Boiling Springs, N.C., at No. 214 on the NCAA's Ratings Percentage Index list (the Cougars are No. 148).
But the College of Charleston missed open shots, bobbled rebound opportunities, didn't make enough crisp passes.
“It wasn't a single play,” Cougars forward Trent Wiedeman said. “It was a few plays we messed up on or didn't make, and that was the difference in the game.”
With nine wins in 11 games, head coach Doug Wojcik's first College of Charleston team is so close to peaking at the right time.
Then come stretches of ugliness, such as only 22 points in the second half Saturday, and that was thanks to Anthony Stitt's last-second 3-pointer.
To get on a run that includes wins in the final two regular season games and ends with a SoCon tournament championship game victory over Davidson, everything must come together.
It comes down to body parts:
Health and leadership
Trent Wiedeman's ankles. The best sixth man in the SoCon has had issues with both ankles in his three seasons as a Cougar. The 6-8 junior has missed nine games this year and was instrumental in a six-game win streak that ended with a 75-59 Valentine's Day loss to Davidson.
Not coincidentally, the Wildcats pulled away after Wiedeman's latest twist.
It was minor. He's healthy, and must remain so.
Andrew Lawrence's heart. A senior with Olympic experience, the London native scored 16 points and almost saved the day against Gardner-Webb. His backcourt leadership has value beyond boxscores.
“They competed throughout the game, but I don't think it necessarily had to do with them,” Lawrence said. “We just missed a lot of easy shots around the goal. Myself, I missed a few down the stretch.
“A lot of it is not concentrating on the shots, not following through. But you have to give them a lot of credit. They held us to 52 points.”
Adjehi Baru's right hand. The 6-9 sophomore leads the team with 35 blocks. Gaining confidence by the month, Baru at his shot-slapping best gives coaches — including Davidson's — a huge headache.
Aiming for Asheville
Anthony Stitt's feet. A quick first step is the key to assists, and Stitt is crucial to the Cougars' gradually improving assist-to-turnover ratio.
The 6-1 sophomore has had to make more adjustments than any other player going from the faster-paced Bobby Cremins offense to Wojcik's more conventional approach. He stood out against Gardner-Webb, with a 5/2 assist-to-turnover ratio (6/12 for the rest of the team).
Willis Hall's soul. The 6-6 junior fires up teammates and fans with fist-pumping joy after big plays. More, please.
Doug Wojcik's brain. The school could have hired someone with less experience, but March is where it theoretically helps to have a guy with 140 career victories at Tulsa.
The real fun is about to start.
“We still have a championship to play for,” Lawrence said.
Valuable body parts and lessons learned from the Runnin' Bulldogs can go a long way.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.