Senior Nori Johnson (Greer, S.C.) hit seven three-pointers, including 6-for-6 in the first half, to lead College of Charleston to a 75-70 win over UNC Wilmington on Wednesday night at TD Arena.
The Cougars (11-9, 3-2 CAA) bounced back from a tough home loss to preseason CAA favorite Towson on Sunday by hitting 10 three-pointers and winning the rebound battle, 33-26, over the Seahawks (6-15, 0-6 CAA).
Both teams shot over 50 percent from the field in a fast-paced second half that saw UNCW erase a 13-point first-half Charleston lead and tie the game at 52-all with 7:43 remaining. However, CofC's aggressiveness on defense and clutch free throw shooting (19-for-27) ultimately secured the victory.
The Cougars blocked six shots and made 12 steals, including four from senior Anthony Thomas (Winston-Salem, N.C.), to help shut down UNCW in the final minutes.
Johnson tied his career high with his seven three-pointers, finishing with a game-high 23 points. He went 7-of-9 from the floor and added two blocks, two steals and three rebounds in just his second start of the season.
Thomas' effort was crucial that ignited a Cougar second-half spark after UNCW had tied the ballgame. He finished with 11 points, three rebounds, four assists, two blocks and four steals, exhibiting big-play effort in every corner of the court.
Senior Willis Hall (Charlotte, N.C.) turned in 12 points with seven boards, while junior big man Adjehi Baru (Abidjan, Ivory Coast) added eight points and seven rebounds.
UNCW was led by the dual efforts of Cedrick Williams and Chris Dixon, who scored 22 and 21 points, respectively, representing the only Seahawks in double figures. Williams pulled down seven rebounds and Dixon made four assists on the offensive end.
The Cougars were in control early in the first half as Johnson heated up quickly, hitting five treys in the first eight minutes for a 20-8 Charleston run. After a UNCW free throw, Thomas drove the lane for a finger roll to give CofC its largest lead, 22-9.
However, UNCW slowly chipped away at the Cougars' advantage, bringing the margin to 25-19 after a Ben Eblen layup with 5:15 left in the half. Johnson hit his sixth three-pointer and sophomore David Wishon (Concord, N.C.) dropped in a baseline jumper, but Dixon finished the half with a jumper in the paint to put the deficit at just 30-23.
The Seahawks wasted no time in the second half making a 12-7 run to cut the lead to 37-35 after a Williams basket with 15:59 left on the clock. Charleston responded to a surge from the home crowd with its own 7-0 run, punctuated by free throws from Johnson.
CofC free throws and a three from Stitt kept Charleston ahead, but the Seahawks found offensive life once again, scoring 17 points in six minutes to tie the game at 52-all with 7:43 left.
College of Charleston never did let the UNCW faithful see a lead on the scoreboard, however, as the prowess of Thomas led to seven points in less than three minutes, and a Baru jumper seemingly put the game away at 70-61 with 3:13 remaining.
The Seahawks would not relent, though, and a nine-point lead became 73-70 after a Dixon trey and several Cougar turnovers with 54 seconds left. Freshman guard Joe Chealey (Orlando, Fla.) made a huge offensive rebound on the CofC offensive end by staying with a loose ball and forcing a UNCW foul with the shot clock off. He hit both free throws and the Cougars eventually held on for the win.
College of Charleston hits the road this weekend for two CAA games at James Madison and William & Mary. The tilt against the Dukes is scheduled to tip at 2 p.m. (ET) in Harrisonburg, Va. The game will be televised live regionally on Comcast SportsNet (CSS in Charleston).
· For the second time this season and second consecutive game, the Cougars went with the starting five of junior guard Anthony Stitt, senior combo guard Nori Johnson, senior small forward Anthony Thomas, graduate senior forward Willis Hall and junior forward Adjehi Baru (1-1). It was Johnson's second start of the season and 18th of his career.
· With the win, the Cougars now lead 10-4 in the all-time series with UNC Wilmington winning six of the last seven contests. It was both teams' first meeting since a non-conference tilt in 2008.
· Nori Johnson shot a perfect 6-for-6 from beyond the arc in the first half of play for a career-best 18 points scored in a half. He previously had 16 first-half points at Kent State on Feb. 18, 2012. Johnson ended the night with a game-high 23 points which marked his third career 20-point game. He tied his career-high with seven three-pointers next to seven made at Hofstra on Jan. 11. It was one shy of tying the school single-game record for the most made three-pointers (8) by former greats Dontaye Draper (twice in 2007), Troy Wheless (once in 2003) and Andrew Goudelock (twice in 2011).
· Anthony Thomas turned in his sixth double-figure scoring game of the season with 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field against the Seahawks. He also added a game-high four steals.
· Willis Hall recorded his 11th game in double figures of the season with 12 points and seven rebounds. He has now tabulated 992 career points to date and is eight shy of reaching the 1,000-career point plateau.
· CofC shot a league season-best 47.9 percent (23-of-48) from the floor against UNCW. The Cougars previous best in their first five CAA games was 44.2 percent at Hofstra on Jan. 11. It was also the team's fourth-best shooting percentage from the field for the season.
· The Cougars knocked down 10 three-pointers in the ballgame, including seven from Nori Johnson, to mark the fourth time this season CofC has made 10-or-more treys next to a season-high 12 versus Charlotte on Nov. 12, 12 against James Madison on Jan. 7, 11 versus Furman on Nov. 23 and 11 at Hofstra on Jan. 11.
"It was a game of ebbs and flows – highs and lows. I give our guys a lot of credit, particularly Nori (Johnson) and the way we started the game. I thought for 12 minutes, we just played a really good game. They had two made threes and then we just started throwing the ball around the gym. They had 13 points off of turnovers in the first half, but otherwise, they would have had 10 points. Now, we're not perfect, but we really tightened up and played a good first half. We let them close in on the lead. Give them (UNC Wilmington) credit. They never quit. But in the end, we just made enough plays. Anthony Thomas made some great plays down the stretch. Adjehi (Baru), despite all the foul trouble, made some plays down the stretch. Joe Chealey made a great play by getting the offensive rebound and making his free throws. So, it was a good win for us. It's league play. Ohio State goes to Nebraska the other night and gets beat. It's just league play. It's how league play should be. It's a fight every night. Towson gets beat tonight and William & Mary gets beat tonight. The preseason last-place team, Hofstra, is now in second place. It's going to be a dogfight the rest of the year. We will take the win. We will get better tomorrow and get ready to go play on the road."
College of Charleston Senior Combination Guard Nori Johnson
On having a better performance than in his first start against Towson on Sunday …
"Well, I didn't lose any confidence. I didn't get into much of a rhythm on Sunday (against Towson). I took some shots that didn't get me in the rhythm that I usually get into. But tonight, I started off well, started feeling it and I'm glad they went in. I was pretty confident and I'm glad we got the W."
On being surprised by UNCW playing zone …
"I was very surprised. I was expecting them to play man. Since I've been shooting the ball pretty well, teams have been playing man and not getting off of me. It was very surprising that they came out in the zone. I'm glad we took advantage of it."
College of Charleston Senior Small Forward Anthony Thomas
On his layup that was a big turning point in the second half …
"Coach (Wojcik) was in the huddle saying, ‘we need a spark, we need a spark!' I took it upon myself, as a senior and as a captain, to try to give the team a spark, and that's what I did."
UNC Wilmington Head Coach Buzz Peterson
On the loss …
"It was a hard-fought ball game. We're tired of coming up on the short end. I thought Nori Johnson kind of put us in a tough spot early against our zone, and that's my fault. I've known about the kid for a long time, I've seen him play and he hit some big shots. Our man-to-man (defense) did okay and we started (Ben) Eblen – a local young man – but (Anthony) Stitt and Johnson hit some big shots tonight."
UNC Wilmington Junior Forward Cedrick Williams
On his 22-point performance …
"I just took what the defense gave me. I didn't force it tonight – tried to face up and get to the free throw line. I trust my teammates and they did a good job of getting me the ball."
UNC Wilmington Senior Guard Ben Eblen
On being back home in Charleston …
"This place is always going to be home. My family still lives here and it meant a lot to be able to play in front of my family and friends. Obviously, I would have liked to get out of here with a win. It was awesome (to play in TD Arena). I'm down here in the summer and know Nori (Johnson) and (Anthony) Stitt, so it's really fun to play against guys you know. They'll have bragging rights when I come back here in the summer, but hopefully, we'll get them up there and I can balance that out a little bit."
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