College of Charleston fought its way back through the very end, but senior leadership would prevail as No. 5 North Division seed Appalachian State defeated No. 4 South Division seed CofC, 93-81, in the first round of the 2012 Southern Conference Men's Basketball Championship held Friday afternoon at the U.S. Cellular Center.
Senior Omar Carter scored 19 points, including a trio of three-pointers, to keep the Mountaineers' (13-17) postseason tournament run alive and snap a three-game win streak by the Cougars (19-12). It was CofC's first opening-round loss since joining the league in 1998-99 - the program's last appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Mike Neal knocked down a game-high 21 points as ASU shot the lights out with a 62.5 percent (20-of-32) accuracy from the floor in the second half, where Neal scored 16 of his points and Carter 13.
Appalachian State led 33-30 at halftime, but the Cougars would tie it up at 42-all on a steal and fastbreak layup by freshman Anthony Stitt (Charlotte, N.C.) with 14:27 remaining in regulation.
A 15-5 run ensued, ending with a three-point play by Neal, gave the Mountaineers a 10-point lead, 57-47, and it was 63-51 with 8:37 left after two three-pointers by Carter. CofC cut the lead down to as few as eight points in the final two-minute stretch, but it was not enough to make a dent or a comeback.
Sophomore Trent Wiedeman (Suwanee, Ga.) led CofC with 19 points, while senior Antwaine Wiggins (Greeneville, Tenn.) and junior Andrew Lawrence (London, England) each had 14.
Appalachian State advances to tomorrow's quarterfinals where it will face No. 1 North Division seed UNCG.
* For the 11th time this season, CofC used the starting lineup of junior Andrew Lawrence, sophomore Nori Johnson, senior Antwaine Wiggins, sophomore Trent Wiedeman and freshman Adjehi Baru (6-5).
* In the loss, the Cougars are now 1-4 all-time in SoCon Tournament opening-round games and 17-12 in the all-time series with Appalachian State. The Mountaineers evened the series to 4-4 when playing the Cougars in a SoCon Tournament game and have now won the last two-straight meetings in postseason tournament play next to a 77-54 victory in the semifinals in 2010.
* Antwaine Wiggins closed out his five-year CofC career with 1,306 career points, 702 career rebounds, 174 career three-pointers, 232 career assists, 122 career blocks and 127 career steals. He leaves his mark ranked 14th all-time in career scoring (seventh-most in the program's Division I history), fourth all-time in Division I career rebounding and seventh all-time in career three-pointers made.
* Four CofC players scored in double figures including Trent Wiedeman for the 18th time this season, Wiggins for the 28th time, Andrew Lawrence for the 23rd time and Anthony Stitt for the eighth time.
* Appalachian State scored a season-high 93 points and shot a season-best 53.3 (8-of-15) from beyond the three-point arc.
College of Charleston Interim Head Coach Mark Byington
On the game ...
"I'll start by talking about the message I delivered to the team in the lockerroom at the end of the game. This game resembled our season and some of the things we went through. Our guys had many chances to give up and not keep on fighting, playing hard and sticking together. I told them I was proud of them. Even though this game didn't go our way, they kept fighting and playing as hard as they could. We were a possession away from doing something good. We are disappointed our shots didn't go down in the first half and some of the free throws and rebounds. App State deserves a lot of credit. They have a senior-oriented team and their seniors stepped up and made plays today. They saw the ball go in and that gave them confidence and gave them energy. We saw a different team than what we saw in Boone a couple of weeks ago and actually on tape all year. They turned into a different team today. We struggled early offensively which led to more-and-more pressure built up on us. The youth of our team showed itself at different times in the game. You could see with their seniors, how they stayed the course and kept playing. I felt like our guys felt more pressure than they needed to and I have to do a better job of relieving that for them. We have a team that has high-character guys and has a lot of heart. We have a team that has a great future. A lot of our guys are young. We have one senior. I was really disappointed we couldn't send out Antwaine (Wiggins) better. He has had a great senior year. Antwaine should be proud of how he responded. I'm sorry about the outcome. I feel bad for our players and Antwaine. They tried so hard, but couldn't overcome some of the obstacles they faced today."
College of Charleston Senior Forward Antwaine Wiggins
On the game ...
"I just felt like Appalachian State came out really confident. They started hitting shots at the start of the game. You could tell they fed off that and didn't slip up the whole game. Also, their offense rebounding (hurt us). They were killing us on the boards. We fought well at the end of the game. I'm happy we didn't give up. It showed that we had heart. App State played a great game. Unfortunately, we didn't get the win today. But, we can't get down. We beat a lot of good teams this year. We had an injury bug hit us and we had Coach Cremins (take a medical) leave. It was tough having a younger team and having to go through that their first year. Overall, I felt pretty happy for my team and wish them the best of luck next year."
College of Charleston Junior Point Guard Andrew Lawrence
On the difference in the game ...
"It's basketball. People are going to make runs. They made a great run and made a lot of great shots. Some of their shots, they hadn't made all year, but they made them today. It's tough to take. Give credit to App State. They played a great game. Overall, it was a good season. We had a winning record. We lost a lot this year from Coach Cremins leaving and Willis Hall getting injured at the beginning of the year. Everyone fought and stayed together. I'm really proud of our guys. A lot of us come back next year. We will go into this offseason, work hard and will be hungry next year."