Patriots slip past Cougars

College of Charleston's Andrew Lawrence

After spending more than a decade in the Southern Conference, the College of Charleston is set to join the Colonial Athletic Association in July.

If Tuesday night’s opening round game of the College Basketball Invitational against George Mason is any indication of what lies ahead for Charleston in the CAA, Cougars fans can’t wait.

George Mason forward Erick Copes tapped in Sherrod Wright’s missed layup attempt to lift the Patriots to a thrilling 78-77 victory over the College of Charleston before a crowd of 1,713 at TD Arena.

The Patriots (19-14) will face the winner of the Houston-Texas game next week in the quarterfinals of the CBI.

For the Cougars (24-11), it was a disappointing end to what was easily the most entertaining game all season at home.

It was also the Cougars’ first loss to a CAA opponent this season, having beaten Towson, 75-58, and Old Dominion, 76-65, earlier in the year.

“That was a great college basketball game,” Charleston coach Doug Wojcik said.

“We finally gave our fans a reason to get loud and enjoy themselves. It was a tough way to lose on a tip-in, but overall both teams played very well. It was a slugfest and a fun game to be a part of.”

After a lackluster first half that saw Wright score at will, finishing with 16 points to give the Patriots a 44-36 halftime lead, the Cougars came storming out of the locker room to start the second half.

“There was a lot said at halftime,” Wojcik said. “Give the guys credit, they responded in the second half and played really well.”

Anthony Stitt, who had just two points at halftime, led the way, connecting on five 3-pointers in the second half and finishing with a game-high 21 points.

Not only was the Charlotte native getting it done on the offensive end, he was given the unenviable assignment of trying to slow Wright in the second half. Wright scored just four points over the final 20 minutes and did not make a shot from the floor, after hitting on all six shots in the first half.

“Anthony was phenomenal at both ends, but he’s been that way all season,” Wojcik said. “I didn’t want to put him on Wright because he plays so many minutes, but we had to in the second half and he stepped up to the challenge.”

Charleston’s Adjehi Baru did his part as well, finishing with 16 points and seven rebounds.

Nine different times the game was tied and there were six lead changes, including four in the final three minutes of the game.

Stitt’s third 3-pointer of the game with 11:40 to play gave the Cougars their first lead, 57-55, since early in the first half.

From that point on the two teams traded baskets as the momentum swung from bench to bench. Twice in the final three minutes the Cougars appeared to have the game in hand. After Stitt’s fifth 3-pointer and two free throws from Andrew Lawrence, the Cougars led 74-69 with 2:22 to play.

But Wright hit two free throws to make it a one possession game, 74-71, with 2:10 left.

Lawrence answered with a 3-pointer of his own with 1:48 to play as the Cougars held a 77-71 lead and appeared to be headed into the second round of the CBI.

“You never want to count another team out, but we put ourselves in a good position to win the game,” Lawrence said.

But the Patriots scored the final seven points of the game. Jonathan Arledge got a putback and Bryon Allen nailed a 3-pointer to cut it to 77-76 with 1:24 to play.

Stitt got a wide-open 15-foot jumper on the Cougars’ next possession with 15 seconds to play, but the ball rattled out.

Wright got the rebound, drove the length of the floor and missed his leaning one-handed attempt that Copes tapped in for the game winner.

It was Lawrence’s final collegiate game. Lawrence ended his career with 1,219 career points, 22nd in scoring in school history. He had 393 assists (7th) and 207 3-pointers (6th).

“I really enjoyed all four years here,” Lawrence said. “I made a lot of great friends and learned a lot of life lessons.”

The Cougars were without junior forward Willis Hall, who broke his foot over the weekend.

“Willis has been a rock for us all season,” Wojcik said. “No doubt that affects us not having him in the lineup.”