With 10 minutes left in the first half Friday afternoon against Providence, things did not look very good for College of Charleston.
The Cougars had not scored a basket in more than seven minutes and trailed the Friars by 13 points. Charleston had experienced a similar scoring drought Thursday night against Wake Forest in the opening round of ESPN’s Wooden Legacy tournament at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif.
Unlike Thursday night against Wake Forest, however, the Cougars found an offensive rhythm behind 29 points from Grant Riller as College of Charleston defeated Providence 63-55 on Friday afternoon.
After getting outscored 19-6 in the opening 10 minutes of the first half, the Cougars (4-3) roared back, closing out the half on a 21-10 run to trail the Friars 29-27 going into the locker room.
“The game was very physical in the first 10 minutes,” said College of Charleston coach Earl Grant. “Providence pounded the ball inside and they went after the ball relentlessly, and it was hard for us. Our guys adjusted to the physicality and, you know, we’re tough, too. We started to play Charleston basketball. They gathered themselves about the 10-minute mark and played really well from that point. The way we played the last 28 minutes is the way we have to play to be successful.”
Riller, like he has done so many times during his career, took over the game. One night after spraining his ankle against Wake Forest, the senior was 9 of 15 from the floor and connected on 9 of 10 free throws against the Friars (4-4). He added five rebounds, five assists, two steals and blocked a shot. Riller moved into third all-time on the school’s career scoring list with 1,943 career points. Prior to the game, he was tied for third with former Charleston standout Jarrell Brantley.
“We wanted Grant to let the game come to him a little more and be patient and trust his teammates,” Grant said. “He was efficient. He’s learning that teams are going to be aggressive on the ball screens and he’s got to pass the ball.”
Grant went to his bench early in this game, playing 11 players, including freshmen Brenden Tucker, DeAngelo Epps and Quan McCluney. The trio of freshmen provided the Cougars with some much-needed energy off the bench.
“I was trying to figure out a rotation, and I went with some young guys and they gave us a great lift,” Grant said. “We needed them to rebound, take charges, play defense and give us energy plays, and the young guys did that today. I thought all of those guys provided great energy. They’ve been asking to play and when they got their opportunity to play today, I thought they took advantage of it. I’ve got to play different guys so they can show me who I need to play.”
The Cougars used a 12-2 run early in the second half to grab a 39-38 lead on Tucker’s layup with 8:31 to play.
Osinachi Smart had his best game as a Cougar. The 6-8 junior had nine points, eight rebounds, a block and a steal in 33 minutes.
“I thought Osci played well,” Grant said. “I thought he competed and rebounded the ball well. It was good to see him have some success. He wants to play more, he wants a bigger role and get more minutes. He showed up tonight and was really an anchor for us around the basket. They had some physical guys in the paint. Osci not only did a good job of rebounding and protecting the rim, but he did a great guarding their guys.”
The Cougars outrebounded the bigger Friars 37-25.
The Cougars committed a season-high 21 turnovers.
“This is a developing team,” Grant said. “The end of the tunnel comes in March and I hope we continue to grow and develop and morph into who we want to be. I saw a beautiful illustration of Charleston basketball. The toughness I want to see and the collective spirit that I want to see and the grit I want to see. We just need to build on that.”
The Cougars will face the winner of the Central Florida-Pepperdine game Sunday at 4 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPNU.
“We know it’s going to be another battle,” Grant said.