ELON, N.C. — College of Charleston coach Earl Grant knew that this day would eventually come.
It had been exactly a month since the Cougars had won a basketball game, losing eight straight games in the process. It was the longest losing streak in nearly half a century.
Through it all, Grant never lost the faith in the program, his players or himself. The former Stall High School star was confident the Cougars would eventually turn things around.
The Cougars (6-12, 1-4 in CAA) did it in convincing fashion Wednesday night against Elon (10-8, 2-3).
Canyon Barry scored a season-high 23 points and Joe Chealey added 17 points as the College of Charleston ended an eight-game losing streak with a 66-50 victory over Elon at Alumni Gym.
“We were all pretty excited to finally get a win,” Barry said. “We had a little mosh pit going and jumped around in the locker room. It was a big relief, but we knew it was going to happen eventually. We’ve got the team and have the talent to make a run in this league. We just continued to work and stay positive and it paid off for us tonight.”
It was a complete effort from beginning to end for the Cougars. Charleston shot 53.7 percent from the floor, including 8 of 15 from 3-point range. On the defensive end, the Cougars held Elon to a season-low 50 points, out-rebounded the Phoenix, 32-23, and forced 15 turnovers.
“It was a complete game for us, maybe one of our best all-around games of the season,” Grant said. “I always feel like if a team can’t score on you, you give yourself a chance to win. The only thing you can depend on is your defense. On the nights when your shots are not falling, you can still win if the other team scores 50 points.”
The Cougars used a 17-7 run early in the second half to break open a close game. Barry, who knocked down three consecutive 3-pointers, scored 13 points during the spurt.
“I have confidence in my shooting ability and my teammates were finding me tonight,” Barry said. “I had some good looks and I trust my shot. If I shoot it, I think it’s going in every time. That’s the mindset you have to have. It’s been going in a lot lately, which is nice. I’m going to continue to work on my game and my teammates have had a big role in that.”
When Barry wasn’t hitting shots, freshman guard Cameron Johnson, who is starting in place of the injured Anthony Stitt, was shutting down Tanner Samson — the Phoenix’ best 3-point shooter. Samson came into the game among the Colonial Athletic Association’s top long-range shooters, having made 56 3-pointers and averaging nearly 13 points a game. With Johnson harassing him all over the court, Samson took just two shots and did not have a single point.
“We’re asking a lot of Cameron Johnson and it’s hard to believe he’s only a freshman,” Grant said. “He doesn’t play like one. He’s a warrior and he loves the challenge when he’s defending the other team’s top offensive players. He’s our best on-the-ball defender and he’s really stepped up since Anthony Stitt has been out of the lineup.”
After a sluggish start, the Cougars found their offensive rhythm midway through the opening half. Charleston scored on a five straight possessions and opened up a 31-24 lead on Adjehi Baru’s three-point play with 1:35 to play.
The Cougars, who led 31-27 at halftime, took control of the game in the first five minutes of the second half.
The Phoenix were able to get it to single digits twice, but never any closer as Chealey scored five answered points to push the Cougars; lead to 53-39 with 9:06 to play.
“Shooting is contagious,” Grant said. “When one guy is hot, he can open things up for everyone else and give them confidence. I knew eventually the ball was going to start falling for us.”
The Cougars will travel to Boston to face Northeastern at 7 p.m. Saturday.