The College of Charleston men's basketball team opened the Doug Wojcik Era and the 2012-13 season with a 75-58 win over Colonial Athletic Association opponent Towson on Friday night at TD Arena.
The Cougars (1-0) used white-hot shooting and suffocating defense to put away the Tigers (0-1) early in the first half and cruise to victory in the season opener. The win helped CofC improve to 16-6 in season openers, including 11-1 at home since it became a Division I member in 1991-92.
CofC shot 56.3 percent from the floor (27-48) and held Towson to just 36.8 percent (21-57) shooting. The defense forced 15 turnovers, including 12 in the first half, leading to 19 points. Last season, CofC opponents shot 42.0 percent and the Cougar defense averaged 14.4 takeaways.
The Cougars led 40-14 at halftime as Towson managed just six buckets against a manic CofC defense in the first 20 minutes. However, Charleston could not maintain the defensive intensity in the second half, allowing the Tigers to shoot 48.4 percent in the second frame and outscore CofC, 44-35.
Four different players tallied double figures in points, led by a 17-point performance by junior big man Trent Wiedeman (Suwanee, Ga.), who shot an impressive 8-of-13 from the floor and gathered six boards. Senior Andrew Lawrence (London, England) poured in 16 points, going 5-of-7 from the floor and a perfect 6-of-6 from the free throw line. Lawrence also dished out five assists and tied a career-high with seven rebounds.
Junior transfer Anthony Thomas (Winston-Salem, N.C.) scored 12 points in his debut in a Charleston uniform, while sophomore Anthony Stitt (Charlotte, N.C.) also notched 12 points with three trifectas.
Sophomore Adjehi Baru (Abidjan, Ivory Coast) nearly amassed a double-double as he scored nine points and grabbed nine rebounds, including four on the offensive end.
Towson was led by Jerrelle Benimon's game-high 23 points. Bilal Dixon tallied a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds, including eight on the offensive glass.
The Cougars were dominant in the first half, opening up a 9-2 lead after Lawrence converted a fouled jumper in the lane followed by a free throw. The lead reached double digits at the 10:03 minute mark after a tip-in from Wiedeman gave CofC an 18-7 lead.
After a layup from Benimon, the Cougars excited the crowd of 4,215 with a 13-0 run that stretched an 18-9 lead to 31-9 after a steal and three-pointer from Stitt. Nearly half of CofC's 40 first-half points came as a result of 12 forced turnovers. A dunk from Wiedeman on a dish from Lawrence sealed a 40-14 halftime lead with the crowd on its feet.
The Cougars continued to keep their collective feet on the gas pedal in the opening minutes of the second half as another dunk from Wiedeman capped a 9-2 run that included threes from Thomas and Stitt, putting the Cougars up 49-16.
However, Towson began to creep back with increased shooting accuracy, trading baskets with the Cougars to keep the margin around 25 for much of the second half. The Tigers shot 48.8 percent in the second half and outrebounded CofC, 19-14, in the final 20 minutes.
Free throws from Towson's Kris Walden, followed by a jumper from Benimon, brought the Cougar lead to 19, 71-52, with just over three minutes left in regulation. However, CofC's defense stiffened and Towson never got closer than 15 points, before the Charleston reserves entered the court in the final minute.
Up next, the Cougars will take part in the ESPN Charleston Classic presented by Foster Grant on Nov. 15, 16 & 18 at TD Arena. They will open the eight-team tournament with St. John's out of the BIG EAST Conference on Thursday, Nov. 15 at 5 p.m. (ET) and the game will be televised nationally on ESPNU.
· The Cougars went with the starting five of sophomore Anthony Stitt, senior Andrew Lawrence, junior Anthony Thomas, sophomore Adjehi Baru and junior Trent Wiedeman. It marked Thomas' first career start in a CofC uniform as a JUCO transfer from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College.
· With the victory, CofC now leads 2-1 in the all-time series with Towson.
· First-year head coach Doug Wojcik earned his first career coaching victory with the Cougars after taking over the reins of the program in April upon the retirement of former head coach Bobby Cremins.
· The Cougars have now won five consecutive regular-season opening games since 2008.
· CofC held Towson to single digits until the 5:21 minute mark of the first half. Last year, the Cougars held Holy Cross in their regular-season opener to an opponent season-low 19 points in a half on Nov. 11, 2011 at TD Arena.
· Andrew Lawrence grabbed a career-high tying seven rebounds versus the Tigers. He last brought down seven boards against UNCG on Jan. 12, 2012.
· Redshirt junior Willis Hall scored his first points since missing the 2011-12 season with an ACL injury with a layup at the 3:49 minute mark of the first half.
· For the game, CofC shot 56.3 percent (27-of-48) and an improved 58.6 percent (17-of-29) from the charity stripe versus Towson. Last season, the team shot better than 50 percent on five occasions. The school record for highest field-goal percentage in a single game is 60 percent set twice against Furman in 1999 and versus Georgia Southern in 2008.
College of Charleston Head Coach Doug Wojcik
On the season-opening game and atmosphere at TD Arena …
"You guys were right. What a great atmosphere. (TD Arena is) A great place to play a game and the fans were great. The sound system was awesome. The student turnout was as good as I have seen on opening night around the country. They really gave us the energy. I thought our guys did a really great job getting off to a great start. They just responded really well to the whole situation. It was a great first half, you can talk to me afterwards about the second half."
On jumping out to a big start in first half …
"There were some people saying they (Towson) were physically better and bigger and they were. They were bigger, but we jumped on them. We did a good job defending. We really did a nice job and (assistant coach) Amir (Abdur-Rahim) did a good job with the scout. We guessed at what they would do and the kids really adhered to what we were doing as far as practice the last three days."
On the team's balanced scoring attack …
"I've talked to Adjehi (Baru) and I've told the guys I want them to be selfish in two areas – rebounding and free throws. If Adjehi makes his free throws, I have five guys in double figures tonight. As far as highest minutes, I had one guy with 31, and it wasn't Andrew Lawrence, which is a good thing for us. We will build on it. Turnovers are not great and free throws are not great, but percentage defense, defending the three and rebounding was a pretty good night for us."
On his first career coaching victory at CofC …
"There are 30 more (games) left. I have heard so many great things (about the electric environment at TD Arena) and you believe it when you see it. The atmosphere is great and the sound system is terrific. It's a good feeling for me. I'm trying to hold my enjoyment in, but it was a lot of fun. It was good to be a part of it and I appreciate the opportunity (to be the CofC Head Coach)."
College of Charleston Senior Point Guard Andrew Lawrence
On the team's defensive pressure …
"In Coach Wojcik's system, we really get after it. We've put in a lot of preparation, so we're really ready coming in and we can really get after them on defense. It was definitely positive that we outrebounded them which is a big step forward, but we have to clamp down on our offensive rebounds."
On playing a CAA school …
"It gave us some extra fuel, knowing that we could possibly be in that conference next year. It's always fun to play teams out of conference, and it gave us a good feel of how physical the CAA could potentially be next year for these guys."
On the team's second-half play …
" I think we let up a little bit, but they also played a lot better in the second half. They made a lot more shots, they really crashed the offensive boards and the big guy, (Jerrelle) Benimon, scored 23 points and really went to work. They came out and showed a lot of pride."
College of Charleston Junior Forward Trent Wiedeman
On the team's defensive plan …
"Coach (Wojcik) really got us hyped up and off to a good start and that was the plan to get on them early and often. We gave up too many (offensive) rebounds, 17, so that's one thing we have to work on going into the St. John's game."