College of Charleston’s Joe Chealey thriving in expanded role

College of Charleston's Joe Chealey has averaged 19.0 points, 4.6 assists and 4.0 rebounds for the Cougars in their last three games. Paul Zoeller/Staff

With Anthony Stitt out of the College of Charleston lineup for at least another 10 days, the burden of being the Cougars’ lead guard has almost exclusively fallen on the shoulders of sophomore Joe Chealey.

It’s a role that Chealey has not shied away from. On the contrary, the Orlando, Fla., native has embraced it.

The College of Charleston will take on UNC Wilmington at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at TD Arena.

With Stitt still recovering from minor knee surgery for at least another week, Chealey has been asked to carry more of an offensive load for the Cougars. Chealey has thrived with the added responsibility, responding with a string of games that are among the best of his young career.

Chealey is averaging 19 points, 4.6 assists and four rebounds over the last three games. He is shooting 55.8 percent from the floor, including 61.5 percent from 3-point range, while playing a team-high 36 minutes a game.

“No doubt I’ve been a little more aggressive the last few games, looking for my shot a little bit more with Anthony being out,” said Chealey, who is averaging 12.1 points a game on the season. “We’re missing a big piece of our offense with Anthony being out, so I’ve been a little more aggressive, but at the same time I’m taking what the defense has been giving me.”

Not only has Chealey been asked to score more in Stitt’s absence, but College of Charleston coach Earl Grant wants him to guard the opposing team’s top guard. That’s normally been a role filled by Stitt the last two seasons.

“When you have to score and guard a really good player, that’s going to take a toll on your body,” Grant said. “So, we’ve got to be careful with Joe’s minutes. He’s been averaging 34 to 36 minutes and he’s been gutting his way through it. He’s responded very well.”

Chealey said his role really hasn’t changed much, but he has enjoyed the added playing time and defensive responsibilities.

“That’s what every player wants, more minutes, more responsibility,” Chealey said. “You want to have an impact on the game. I don’t think it’s taken a toll on me. I’ve just got to keep grinding it out. It’s supposed to be tough. It feels good to have that kind of responsibility and trust from the coaching staff and my teammates.”

Chealey also knows how to get his teammates involved in the offense. He leads the Cougars with 66 assists, which is sixth in the Colonial Athletic Association.

“We need him to score as well as distribute the basketball,” Grant said. “He needs to understand that when teams are coming after him there should be a lot of people open. It’s a balancing act and I try not to talk about it too much because if you do, then the player tries to become more of a pure point guard. We don’t want him to completely go into that mode because we still need him to score.”

While Chealey acknowledged he has been looking for his shot a little more since Stitt was injured, he hasn’t forgotten his primary role as a point guard.

“Honestly, you have to do what’s best for the team,” Chealey said. “If coach feels like I need to be a little more aggressive and score then that’s what I’m going to do. Primarily, I’m going to look for my teammates to get them involved early and kind of pick my spots when they present themselves. That’s how I’ve always played.”