Normally, College of Charleston coach Earl Grant doesn’t talk to his team about standings or a team’s records.
Grant prefers to remain focused on the process of building a winning program.
But going into Saturday’s game against Elon, Grant went a little off script. A road win over the Phoenix would not only avenge last month’s home loss to Elon, but it would also put the Cougars one-step closer to not having to participate in a “play in” game in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament next month in Baltimore.
Jarrell Brantley scored 20 points and hauled down nine rebounds, while Cameron Johnson added 15 points to lead College of Charleston past Elon, 66-62, Saturday night at Alumni Gym in Elon, N.C.
With the victory, the Cougars improved to 16-9 overall and 8-6 in the CAA, two games up on Northeastern (14-13, 6-8) and three games ahead of Elon (14-13, 5-9) for sixth place in the conference. The top two teams at the end of the regular season receive a first-round bye in the tournament, while the bottom four teams in the 10-team conference must play an extra game in the tournament. The Cougars are just one game behind Towson, James Madison and William & Mary for third place with four games left in the regular season.
“This was an important game,” Grant said. “My thought process the whole time has been to do things the right way. We’ve got certain standards that we live by. If we meet those standards we’re going to be happy with the results no matter what they are. This was probably the first time we told the guys that ‘hey, this is a big game.’”
“We’ve talked about it before we played. We’ve never put the standings on the board. But when you win a few games maybe you need to talk about the standings a little bit. We’re getting to the point where we might need to start looking at the standings a little bit. Still, my focus is going to be about the process. The process of building a successful program. I’m happy for the guys and I hope we can keep this thing going.”
While Brantley was putting up big numbers for the Cougars, it was the aggressive offensive play of Payton Hulsey that was a big key in the victory. Hulsey is usually content on distributing the ball to his teammates, but against the Phoenix he was looking for his shot more often. Hulsey finished with just 10 points, but took just seven shots from the floor.
“We thought we could drive the ball to the basket and told Payton if he had the opportunity he needed to take the shot,” Grant said. “He’s not a guy that shoots a lot, we’d probably like him to shoot more, but he we needed every point from him tonight.”
Elon led the game early behind the hot shooting of freshman Steven Santa Ana. Santa Ana led the Phoenix with a career-high 20 points, including knocking down four of five shots from long range. The Phoenix led by as many as seven points midway through the first half, but the Cougars began to chip away at the lead. The Cougars used 14-3 run to end the first half and take a 34-29 halftime lead.
Charleston appeared to take control of the game early in the second half. Brantley’s mid-range jumper gave the Cougars a 51-38 lead with 11:23 to play.
But Santa Ana answered with a personal 8-0 run to eventually cut the gap to 58-53 on his fourth 3-pointer with 4:20 to play. The Phoenix would get as close as 63-62 on Luke Eddy’s layup with 24.9 seconds to play.
But Johnson and Bailey combined to connect on three of four free throws down the stretch to secure the victory.
“We’re still learning how to finish games,” Grant said. “Give Elon credit, they hit some shots that we contested, but the guys stepped up when they needed to.”