College of Charleston coach Earl Grant has built the Cougars into Colonial Athletic Association contenders by emphasizing defense and rebounding.
But for the second straight game, the Cougars, who came into the game with the top-scoring defense in the CAA, allowed an opponent to shoot better than 50 percent from the floor and score almost at will.
Kurk Lee scored 22 points and Alihan Demir added 20 points to lead Drexel past College of Charleston 87-82 in overtime Friday night at the Daskalakis Athletic Center in Philadelphia.
The Cougars (11-4, 2-1 CAA) will face Towson on Sunday at 2 p.m. Drexel improved to 7-9 and 1-2.
Maybe it was the extra travel out of the Lowcountry – the Cougars had to drive from Charleston to Columbia to catch a flight to Washington, then bus another three hours to Philadelphia through a heavy snowstorm in the Northeast.
Maybe it was the fact that the Dragons had a fully healthy squad again, but whatever the reason, the Cougars looked lethargic from the opening tip.
“You have to give Drexel a lot of credit, they were ready to play and locked in from the beginning,” Grant said. “They attacked us early. I thought our energy was down tonight and we need to find some guys that can give us some energy. I told the guys that Drexel is an improved team, they’ve got their full roster back and we’ve got to learn from this and move on.”
The Dragons shot nearly 57 percent from the floor, including a 61 percent clip in the second half. Delaware shot 56 percent from the floor in a 93-78 loss to the Cougars on Tuesday night at TD Arena. It’s a trend that Grant is hoping to end soon.
“I told our guys that 87 points is too many points,” Grant said. “We’re a defensive and rebounding team, and when we lose sight of that you lose a little bit of who you are. I guess we felt like we could outscore them. It took us too long for us to decide we were going to get some stops. I think we were down something like 16-8 early in the game and they were on a 90-point pace. At the end of the day, we didn’t do what we needed to do.
“Hopefully this is a lesson that we can learn from that we’ve got to stay true to who we are. Our defense and rebounding didn’t travel with us tonight.”
The Dragons led from the outset and slowly built a double-digit lead in the first half on Austin Williams’ dunk that gave Drexel a 21-10 lead with 9:21 to play before halftime.
As poorly as the Cougars played defensively, they still had plenty of chances to win the game, especially in the second half.
Trailing by eight points at halftime, the Cougars clawed their way back into the game. Marquise Pointer and Evan Bailey came off the bench to hit crucial 3-pointers.
“I thought Marquise came off the bench and had another really good game and Evan came in and hit some big shots that kind of got us back into the game,” Grant said.
Charleston used a 12-5 run midway through in the second half to close the gap to 61-60 on two free throws by Joe Chealey, who led the Cougars with 22 points. Four times the Cougars had the ball with a chance to take the lead and couldn’t make the shot.
Two free throws from Lee gave the Dragons a 71-66 advantage with 2:22 to play. The Cougars answered with seven straight points and took their first and only lead at 73-71 on Chealey’s jumper with 33 seconds to play in regulation.
Lee responded with a layup to tie the game at 73 with 22 seconds to go.
Jarrell Brantley, who finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, had a chance to win the game, but his 3-pointer at the buzzer rattled out to send the game into overtime.
After a Brantley 3-pointer in the opening 30 seconds of overtime, Drexel took control of the game with a 3-pointer from Lee and a short jumper from Demir.
“We’ve got to pay attention to the details, and that starts at practice,” Grant said. “We’ve got to focus on the details in practice and hopefully that will translate to the games. We’re playing four games in seven days, so there hasn’t been a lot of time to practice. It’s been one or two-day prep for the games. We haven’t had two or three consecutive days of practice, and the way you work on it is get back in the gym and work on it.”