Exactly 365 days after watching UNC Wilmington cut down the nets in Charleston, the Cougars fulfilled a season-long goal by defeating Northeastern 83-76 and cutting down the nets themselves this time around. Down as many as 17 points in the second half, the College of Charleston rode the momentum of the hometown fans to complete the largest comeback in CAA Championship game history.
In the meeting between regular season champions and top two seeds, Vasa Pusica and the Northeastern Huskies delivered the opening haymakers. Pusica, an All-CAA point guard, made plays whenever Charleston double-teamed him and leaned on Shawn Occeus (10 first half points) for scoring early. The Husky defense absolutely smothered Charleston on the other end too, packing the paint and forcing the Cougars into bad shots. For the period, Northeastern had over twice as many made field goals (14 to 6) and made threes (7 to 3) as Charleston and took a 36-23 lead into the locker room.
In the second half, Charleston’s defense started to regain it’s regular season form. After turning the ball over just five times in the first half, Northeastern coughed the ball up 14 times in the second against Charleston’s pressure. That provided extra opportunities for the home team to run and cut into the lead. The Cougars scored 14 points off such opportunities and cut the lead to single digits twice. Northeastern pushed back with a 5-0 run of their own that pushed the lead back to 10 with 7:01 to play.
Like they had done in a quarterfinal comeback over Drexel, Charleston leaned on the speed and experience of a potent four guard lineup with reserve Marquise Pointer in place of big man Nick Harris. The Cougars got to the rim at will after the adjustment, outscoring Northeastern 30-10 in the paint after halftime. Following a Pusica traveling call with 18 seconds to play, Charleston leaned on fifth year senior Joe Chealey to make the game-tying layup. Chealey had the Cougars’ final eight points in regulation.
In overtime, Charleston got another big contribution from Marquise Pointer. The junior backup point guard, who shot 28% from three in the regular season, nailed two treys within two minutes of each other in overtime. The second gave Charleston a six point lead with 2:04 to play in extra time.
Northeastern’s best attempt to salvage the game came off of a Bolden Brace three that cut the deficit to 79-76 with 1:05 to play. But Charleston made all six of their overtime free throws - all from Chealey in a 32-point performance - to complete the comeback.
It was a sigh of relief for a team that had lived up to preseason billing and protected home turf in the tournament. Coach Earl Grant has engineered a massive turnaround, taking home the CAA trophy three years after watching the team stumble to its worst-ever record in his first season. Next stop is the NCAA Tournament, but for now CofC is partying like it’s 1999.