College of Charleston had seen this happen before against Drexel.
A month ago, College of Charleston led the Dragons by 13 points with eight minutes to play and somehow lost the game 79-78 when Troy Harper made three free throws with one second to play. That is still the only home loss of the season for the Cougars, who had won 22 straight games at TD Arena going into that matchup.
Flash forward to Saturday at Daskalakis Athletic Center in Philadelphia with the Cougars leading by 14 with under four minutes to play.
No way it could happen again, right?
It nearly did.
The Cougars held off a furious Drexel rally as Jarrell Brantley scored 22 points and Grant Riller added 19 as College of Charleston survived to beat Drexel 86-84 before a crowd of 1,175 at the Daskalakis Athletic Center.
It was the sixth straight win for Charleston (20-6, 9-4 Colonial Athletic Association) and marked the third straight 20-win season for the Cougars under coach Earl Grant.
The ending was almost eerily similar to the one in Charleston on Jan. 10. The Cougars had a double-digit lead late in the game, but the Dragons were able to knock down some huge 3-pointers and were helped by some questionable calls.
The most curious play of the afternoon came in the final 10 seconds with Charleston leading 84-82. Brantley was fouled by Drexel’s Trevor John as the Cougars were trying to inbound the ball after a layup from Harper. However, the officials huddled and called Brantley for a flagrant foul for hitting John on the chin as he was trying to get open. That was Brantley's fifth foul, so he was ejected from the game. And because the 6-7, 255-pound senior had fouled out, he couldn’t shoot the free throws.
Enter Sam Miller, who calmly made both free throws to give the Cougars and 86-82 lead. But John hit both of his free throws for Brantley's flagrant foul and Drexel had the ball with 4.9 seconds to play with a chance to tie or win the game. John’s desperation shot at the buzzer bounced off the rim and the Cougars were able to hold on for the victory.
Still, it was an unsettling ending to a game for the second time against the Dragons.
“It was a bizarre finish,” said Grant. “I’ve got to go back and watch the film before I want comment more. We had technical fouls, flagrant fouls. It was one of the most bizarre games that I’ve ever coached. A team controls the game for 35 minutes and some things happened that allowed the game to get away from us. A lot of what they did, they did in the final five minutes. We did some things, they did some things, it was bizarre. That’s about all I can say. We didn’t finish the game the way we should have.”
The finish overshadowed what had been a dominating road performance from the Cougars. Five players scored in double figures as Charleston shot 52 percent from the floor for the game.
“Drexel’s energy got up in those final five minutes,” said Charleston's Marquise Pointer, who finished with 13 points and three rebounds. “Their crowd really got into it. A few balls didn’t bounce our way, a couple turnovers, a couple of miss free throws and they were able to capitalize on our mistakes. We need to finish better.”
- Marquise Pointer. The senior guard wasn’t expected to play after injuring his knee against Delaware on Thursday.
Pointer not only started, but he scored the first six points of the game.
“I felt good this morning when I got up and I kind of had to trick my body into playing,” Pointer said. “It was going to be a mental game for me. I had to go in there and be confident in what my body could do and give everything I had to the team.”
Pointer was 5 of 8 from the floor.
“We didn’t know what we were going to get out of Marquise,” Grant said.
- Ball Protection. The Cougars committed just six turnovers, forced the Dragons into 15 turnovers and had 10 steals. The Cougars turned Drexel’s 15 turnovers into 20 points.
“If you don’t turn the ball over, you don’t give them extra possessions,” Grant said.
Finish the game. For the second straight time the Cougars had issues in the final minutes against Drexel. Luckily, this one didn’t result in a loss.
The Dragons shot 65.4 percent in the second half and scored 50 points in the final 20 minutes.
“That’s not Charleston basketball,” Grant said.
The Cougars arguably have their two biggest games of the year this week when they take on Northeastern (Thursday) and Hofstra (Saturday) at TD Arena.
“We’re not going to back down from any challenge,” Pointer said. “We know this is going to be a big weekend for us.”