James Madison was supposed to be the king of the CAA this year.
And although we are only one game into conference play, it looks like the College of Charleston might become a factor in the CAA standings this season.
Charleston (9-3, 1-0) used 29 points from freshman wingman Jarrell Brantley, on 13-14 shooting, to down the Dukes, 65-62, at James Madison in the CAA season opener.
For the Cougars, the way they won was quite different from many of their eight non-conference wins.
In non-conference play, Charleston used sharpshooting from junior Canyon Barry to lead them to wins over the likes of LSU and East Carolina. Today, Barry had just two points and was 0-13 from the field.
If you would have told JMU head coach Matt Brady before the game that Barry would have had just two points, he probably would have liked his team's chances in this one.
Barry was leading the CAA in scoring with over 22 points per contest coming into the day, but couldn't find his stroke from the perimeter and wasn't getting his driving attempts to fall. Luckily for Charleston, Brantley stepped up.
Brantley was running a perfect game from the field until late in the second half, connecting on outside shots and driving layups alike. For awhile, the only shots Brantley missed were when he was standing still at the free throw line.
Brantley's performance on Thursday afternoon will certainly turn heads in the CAA and may help take all the defensive focus off Barry if CAA coaches know that the Cougars have more than just one scorer on the floor. Charleston head coach Earl Grant would surely love to know he can take some pressure off his star player.
For James Madison (10-4, 0-1), their standout guard Ron Curry led the way, keeping the Dukes in the ballgame when Charleston threatened to pull away. Curry finished the game with 23 points, 5-7 from three-point range.
Charleston extended their lead to 10 midway through the second half and looked to be in control until Curry drilled a three pointer to start a JMU run. The Dukes were able to wrangle the lead away from the Cougars late in the second half, but after Curry put the Dukes up by a point with 2:51 remaining, Charleston guard Marquise Pointer nailed a clutch jumper to put the Cougars ahead for good with 28 seconds on the clock.
Curry had a chance to tie the game at the line with five seconds remaining, but missed his second free throw and Barry scored his only two points of the game to seal it for Charleston.
Sophomore guard Cameron Johnson added 19 points for the Cougars, including five made threes.
While it's still very early, this game had the feel of a late season matchup, with defense and rebounding being a major factor. Charleston hustled on the offensive boards, securing 13 which led to 14 second chance points. The Cougars also added nine steals on the game.
The Colonial is a gritty league to watch, and if its opener was any indication, it'll be another rough and tumble year for a conference that ended with a four-way tie for first last season.
And don't look now, but Charleston has matched their win total from all of last season- and we still have 17 more conference games to play.