College of Charleston falls to UNCW in CAA championship game

NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - Sophomore forward Jarrell Brantley recorded his 11th double-double of the season with 20 points and 11 rebounds as second-seeded College of Charleston hung tough in a 78-69 loss to defending tournament champion and top-seeded UNCW in the Colonial Athletic Association title game on Monday night at North Charleston Coliseum.

The Cougars (25-9), appearing in their first title game as a member of the conference, was paced by redshirt junior guard Joe Chealey's 21 points. Sophomore Nick Harris had eight points and junior Cameron Johnson netted six  points and five rebounds.

UNCW (29-5) captured its second-straight title and the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament behind a game-high 24 points from sophomore guard C.J. Bryce, who was named tournament Most Outstanding Player. He was joined on the CAA All-Tournament Team by Brantley and Chealey.

In front of a rowdy crowd of 6,342, the league's top scoring offense in the Seahawks (85.4 points per game), and the conference's best defensive team in CofC (63.7 points per game) battled well throughout.

The Seahawks held a six-point halftime lead, and seemingly had an answer each time CofC threatened to close the gap. The Cougars finally got within striking distance twice in the early portion of the second half, after Brantley drilled a trey from the top of the key, and freshman Grant Riller scored on a driving lay-in that made it 47-45 with 13:31 left.

That's when UNCW upped the tempo and took control for good, securing a 15-point margin over the next five minutes thanks to a 18-5 run. Bryce kick-started and ended the flurry with three-pointers, including the latter that put his team ahead, 65-50 with 8:25 remaining.

The Seahawks were able to hold off the Cougars down the stretch – pushing the lead to as many as 17 points with three minutes to spare.

It was a frantic pace in the first half with both teams fighting back-and-forth, accounting for nine total lead changes. Freshman Chevez Goodwin's slam near the midway point gave the Cougars an 11-10 lead, and minutes later, a tip-in from Harris made it 17-16.

The Seahawks responded as the half came to close, ending the period on a 14-8 run. Chris Flemmings capped the spurt with his second three-pointer of the game with nine seconds left, helping his team enter the break ahead, 31-26.

POSTGAME NOTES

This was the third time that College of Charleston and UNCW met in the CAA Tournament. The Seahawks now lead 3-0 in those meetings – 2015 Quarterfinals, 2016 Quarterfinals and 2017 Finals.

The Cougars appeared in their first-ever CAA championship game after joining the league in 2013.

For the 14th time this season, Joe Chealey turned in 20-or-more points in game with a team-high 21 points against the Seahawks. He is currently on a career-best 16 game double-digit scoring streak. Chealey continues to move up CofC's career scoring list and has now tabulated 1,198 career points to date which ranks 26th all-time. He also

Jarrell Brantley recorded his 11th double-double of the season with 20 points and a team-high 11 rebounds versus the Seahawks. It marked the 16th double-double of his career. He recorded his 500th career rebound in the game and now has 509 to date.

POSTGAME QUOTES

College of Charleston Head Coach Earl Grant

On the game …

"I'm proud of our players and the effort they gave today. They did a really good job of fighting. We had a few uncharacteristic things happen to us in the middle of the second half that got the game turned in Wilmington's favor. We have a good team and they shouldn't hold their heads down. We will play more basketball here in March."

On UNCW's pace in the second half …

"It was a three-minute spell and that's all it took. The game went from six points. We cut it from six to four. They had a three-minute spell where it went from four to 14 (points) and it happened quickly. We had a couple of turnovers and they made threes. Give them credit. They made two-or-three big threes. They are a good team. They were No. 1 and we were No. 2. They won and someone had to lose."

On the program's climb …

"We moved the program forward this season. That's what we wanted to do. We knew we had the chance to play for something special. We have a great team. Obviously, I'm disappointed. We wanted to get to the NCAA Tournament and do all those things. I'll be disappointed for a few more days. But, I'm proud of our players and I'm proud of our coaching staff. I'm proud of where our program is. We still have more basketball to play."

College of Charleston Redshirt Junior Guard Joe Chealey

On playing three tough games in a row …

"I felt good (out there tonight). It's the championship game. You can't get caught up in and think about being tired (after three tough games in a row). You are just trying to win a basketball game. I felt good. Give them (UNCW) credit like Coach (Grant) said. They made a few more plays than we did. We had some uncharacteristic things happen in the second half."

College of Charleston Sophomore Forward Jarrell Brantley

On the program making a leap …

"We continue to get better every day. From the first day I stepped on this campus, we have gotten better. Everyone had counted us out (in the preseason). We weren't supposed to be in the championship game. But, we will continue to make steps forward."