College of Charleston had been one of the best road teams in the Colonial Athletic Association going into Thursday’s matchup with first place Hofstra.
The Cougars had lost just once in six CAA road games. Charleston’s issue during conference play has been at TD Arena where the Cougars are just 4-3, including losses to CAA bottom dwellers UNC Wilmington and Elon.
With first place in the CAA on line, the Pride totally outplayed Charleston, led by Eli Pemberton’s 28 points, as Hofstra cruised to a 76-63 victory Thursday night at the Mack Center in Hempstead, N.Y.
A week ago, the Cougars dominated William & Mary, beating the Tribe by 18 points as Charleston took over sole possession of first place in the league. However, a lackluster performance in a 72-65 loss to Elon halted any momentum for the Cougars had generated. Charleston (15-11, 9-5) is now tied for third place in the conference.
Too many turnovers early in the game, plus a poor shooting performance from behind the 3-point line doomed the Cougars.
“I thought we had too many miscues with the ball early in the game,” said College of Charleston coach Earl Grant. “We turned it over and that flamed their offense by giving them some transition baskets. That was our No. 1 key tonight, keeping them out of transition. This team is too good to come on their home court and turn the ball over and help their offense and give them opportunities. I thought we did that the first five or six minutes. It took us a while to find the level we needed to compete at to win a game like this. I thought we dug ourselves a hole and it was tough to dig ourselves out of it.”
The Cougars missed point-blank layups, especially early in the second half, when Charleston was still in striking distance.
“We had a lot of missed opportunities right around the rim,” Grant said. “We had opportunities to finish and we didn’t. We’ve got to finish those opportunities in a game like this, there’s no other way to put it. You can’t turn it over like we did and you’ve got to make those plays in the paint.”
The zone defense by the Pride (19-7, 10-3) gave the Cougars fits all night.
“I thought Sam (Miller) and Osi (Smart) gave us a great lift early,” Grant said. “We threw it inside and they delivered and got us some baskets. There were a few times when we had back-to-back opportunities right there at the rim and we couldn’t come up with the basket. Again, in order to win a game like this you’ve got to make those plays and we didn’t.”
The Cougars were badly outrebounded, again, as Hofstra held a 34-22 advantage on the glass.
“It’s a mentality, it’s a want to,” Grant said. “We need to be better. I was more concerned about Hofstra seven offensive rebounds than I was with their 27 defensive rebounds. I think we’ve got to continue to work at it and get this team to believe that we have a chance to do something special down the stretch.”
Grant Riller led the Cougars with 27 points.
Jasper needs to be aggressive
Charleston point guard Zep Jasper did not turn the ball over in 32 minutes of action and did hand out five assists.
But Grant was not pleased with the sophomore’s performance. Jasper missed all three shot attempts he took against the Pride. It wasn't the fact that Jasper missed the shots.
“Zep needs to be more aggressive,” Grant said. “I thought he was passive tonight. When he comes off the ball screen against their zone, he’s got to turn the corner and get into the paint. They were obviously staying with (Riller). They are not stopping the ball, so Zep needs to take advantage of those opportunities. I need him to take more like seven or eight shot attempts. I’m not sure why we was so passive tonight.”
When Jasper has looked for his shot, the Cougars have been a tough team to beat this season.
“I told the guys that we can’t continue to look for (Riller) to make all the plays,” Grant said.
Tucker shines in limited duty
One of the few bright spots besides Riller was freshman guard Brenden Tucker. Tucker came out of high school as an elite scorer, but has struggled to find his scoring touch at the collegiate level.
The 6-2 Tucker finished with a career-high 9 points against the Pride in 16 miutes.
“Brenden did a really good job of stepping up and being confident and playing the game the right way.” Grant said. “He did some really nice things. It was good to see him play like that and hopefully he can continue to build on that because he is a talented player.”
Grant is hoping to get more production from his other freshman – Trevon Reddish and DeAngelo Epps.
“Right now, my bench consists of three freshmen and it’s been a while since I’ve been in that situation,” Grant said. “We need some of our other freshmen to grow up and be more like sophomores. They need to continue to attack the basket, make the right plays and take care of the ball. We need our young guys to help us.”
The Cougars won’t have very long to dwell on the loss as they travel to Boston to take on Northeastern on Saturday afternoon beginning at noon.
“We’ve got to put this one behind us,” Grant said.