No Joe Chealey. No Cameron Johnson. No Marquise Pointer.
No problem for College of Charleston.
Coming off its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1999, College of Charleston was missing several key components from last year’s Colonial Athletic Association championship team.
Gone from the lineup are Chealey, the program’s fourth all-time leading scorer with more than 1,800 points, and defensive stopper Johnson. Chealey is playing professionally with Greensboro Swarm in the NBA’s G League. With Pointer, a senior, out of the lineup at least another week with an elbow injury, the Cougars were forced to lean heavily on Grant Riller and Jarrell Brantley, two first-team preseason All-CAA picks.
Riller and Brantley were more than up to the challenge.
Riller scored a game-high 27 points and Jarrell Brantley finished with 19 points and 14 rebounds to lead College of Charleston past Presbyterian College 85-73 on Tuesday night before a season-opening crowd of 3,711 at TD Arena.
“I think we did pretty well out there, we were swarming around and got a lot of young guys in there who played pretty well,” said Brantley, who was one rebound shy of tying his career high. “I think we played as a team, which was good to see.”
It’s been nine months since the Cougars lost to Auburn 62-58 during the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in San Diego.
“It has been a while since we stepped on the court and played in a real game,” said Riller, who connected on 10 of 20 shots during the game. “We had a couple of new guys, it was their first game and it was good for them to get that experience. It’s just great to be back out there playing again after the way it ended last year in the NCAA Tournament.”
With Pointer out of the lineup, freshman point guard Zep Jasper was expected to see plenty of minutes against the Blue Hose, and he did.
Jasper started the first game of his career, finishing with 15 points, three rebounds, one assist and only two turnovers. He was 3 of 5 from 3-point range.
“Zep is a great player and he played well tonight,” Riller said. “There’s still a lot he has to learn, but he shoots the ball well and you are never going to question how hard he plays. He’s going to help us out a lot this year.”
While Jasper was expected to contribute this season, Isaih Moore was a little more of a unknown commodity. The 6-10 Moore has the skill of a guard, but a 7-foot wing span. The former Sumter High School standout had 13 points, five rebounds in 19 minutes.
“Isaih is a high-level athlete and he’s really active,” Brantley said. “He has the heart of a Lion. He attacks me every day in practice, so I wasn’t really surprised to see him play like that. All the young guys have a lot of heart, so you never know which one of the freshmen are going to step up and give us a big game.”
The Cougars were among the best team’s in the nation a year ago in not turning the ball over. The Cougars averaged about 10 turnovers a game last season. With Chealey and Johnson gone and Pointer hurt, the Cougars turned the ball over just eight times.
As good and as dominant as Brantley was Tuesday night, he was just 6 of 10 from the free-throw line and 1 of 5 from 3-point range. A year ago, Brantley shot 38 percent from 3-point range and was second on the team as an 82-percent free throw shooter.
He looked at the stats sheet after the game and just shook his head.
“I need to do better,” Brantley said.
The Cougars gave up four 3-pointers in the early going, including three 3-pointers to Blue Hose center Francois Lewis. There were some other breakdowns defensively that the Cougars will need to clean up.
“We gave up some easy baskets that we’re going to have correct,” said College of Charleston coach Earl Grant.
Grant feels like the Cougars will be a good shooting team, but didn’t show it Tuesday night. The Cougars shot just 41 percent from the floor, including just 26 percent from 3-point range.
Most player game shorts tend to be either come down to the knee or even below it.
The 6-10, 200-pound Moore has his shorts several inches above his knees, as players did in the 1980s.
When Brantley was asked about Moore’s fashion statement, the senior from Columbia could only shake his head.
“I guess he wants to show off his skinny legs,” Brantley said with a chuckle.
Cameron Johnson, who was named to the CAA All-Defensive team three times, was sitting courtside for Tuesday’s game.
The Cougars will travel to Cullowhee, N.C. Saturday for a game against Western Carolina. Tipoff is set for noon at the Ramsey Center.