Sooner or later College of Charleston coach Earl Grant knew the Cougars would eventually put a complete game together.
Of course the first-year coach was hoping that it would have been sooner rather than later.
Canyon Barry scored 19 points and Joe Chealey added 16 points to lead five players in double figures as the College of Charleston ended a five-game losing streak with an 80-72 win over William & Mary on Thursday night before a crowd of 3,305 at TD Arena.
The Cougars (7-17, 2-9 in CAA) avenged a 30-point loss to the Tribe (14-8, 8-3) earlier in the season and defeated the top team in the Colonial Athletic Association in the process.
Charleston had lost its last five games by a total of 13 points, which was what made Thursday night’s victory over the Tribe that much sweeter.
“It’s always huge to come in and beat one of the best teams in the league, especially when you’ve been on a little bit of a losing streak like we have,’” said Barry, who had six rebounds, one assist, one steal and a blocked shot. “We knew we were capable of beating them. We’ve been playing better and better each game. It was a matter of time before we put a game like this together. We lost a bunch of close games in a row, so it was finally nice to put a total team effort together and get a win.”
Freshman guard Cameron Johnson was tapped with the unenviable task of trying to stop one of the top offensive players in the CAA in William & Mary guard Marcus Thornton. Thornton came into the game averaging 19.2 points a game and had scored in double figures in 27 consecutive games. The 6-5 senior did manage 15 points, but he had to work for every shot as Johnson hounded him all over the floor. Thornton went three of nine from floor and made just one 3-point shot. He is William & Mary’s all-time leader with 287 3-point shots.
“Defense is about heart and mentality,” Grant said. “Part of the reason that Cameron did such a good job on (Thornton) is because he wanted to guard him. A good defender is a guy that looks forward to guarding the best players. All week in practice Cameron Johnson was fired up about that opportunity.”
Johnson, who finished with nine points, deflected most of the credit to his teammates.
“Marcus Thornton is a heck of a player,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t just me, it was a team effort. Coming off of ball screens Adjehi (Baru) helped me out a lot. My teammates were talking the whole time and made me feel like I could press up on him and not get beat. It wasn’t just me, it was a total team effort.”
The return of senior guard Anthony Stitt, who missed the last seven games with an injured knee, provided the Cougars with a lift off the bench. Stitt finished with 10 points, five assists and five rebounds.
“I had forgotten how important Anthony is to our team,” Grant said. “His leadership, his poise, his ball handling are things we missed the last seven games.”
Despite the victory, Grant said he’s not about to rest on the win. There was still plenty of room for improvement.
“I was happy to see us score 80 points and share the basketball like we did,” Grant said. “But we need to get better defensively. We’ve got work to do there. Seventy-two points is too many. Our defense has to be tougher and more stingy.”
The Tribe got off to a quick start and led by 10 points, 16-6, on Terry Tarpley’s dunk five minutes into the game.
The Cougars chipped away at the lead and eventually took a 35-32 lead into the locker room.
Charleston slowly built a double-digit lead in the second half. Stitt’s 3-pointer with 12:27 to play gave the Cougars a 53-43 advantage.
The Tribe was able to cut the gap to 65-59 on two free throws from Thornton, but a Baru layup and free throw and a 3-pointer from Chealey opened up another double-digit lead with 69 seconds to play.