Senior wing Nori Johnson rained in seven 3-pointers to help lift College of Charleston past UNC Wilmington, 75-70, Wednesday at TD Arena.
Making just his second start of the season, Johnson looked plenty comfortable with the early minutes, torching the Seahawks' zone with 18 points on 6-6 shooting from three, in the first half. He missed just two shots all night, finishing with a game-high 23 points.
"I started off well and just started feeling it," Johnson said. "I'm glad they went in. "Since I've been shooting the ball pretty well, teams have been playing man and not helping off of me. So it was very surprising they came out in a zone. I'm glad we took advantage of it."
CofC (11-9, 3-2 CAA) built a 13-point lead through the opening 10 minutes off Johnson's hot shooting before UNCW head coach Buzz Peterson moved to man defense. After the switch, the Cougars gave away eight turnovers that the Seahawks converted into eight points to come within seven at halftime.
UNCW (6-16, 0-6 CAA) slowly trimmed the deficit throughout the second half, finally tying the game at 52 off an 8-2 run with seven minutes to play. The Cougars immediately spurned the Seahawks' rally with a 10-2 run of their own, sparked by an Anthony Thomas jumper and a transition three from Johnson. Thomas finished with 11 points on 5-6 shooting.
"Nori Johnson put us in a scramble early in the ball game," Peterson said. "That's my fault. I've known about the kid for a long time.
"We got it tied up. ... Then Johnson hit the big three in transition. That's just kind of been our problem all year."
UNCW threatened again with less than a minute to play after a three from Chris Dixon cut the Cougars lead to three. Anthony Stitt missed the answer at the other end but Joe Chealey corralled the rebound for the Cougars, forcing UNCW to foul with the shot clock turned off. Chealy knocked down both free throws to seal the Cougars' fourth CAA win.
"They're a desperate team," Charleston head coach Doug Wojcik said. "Give them credit, they never quit. But in the end, we just made enough plays Joe Chealy makes a great play by getting the offensive rebound and making his free throws. Good win for us. It's league play and it's what league play should be, a fight every night."
The Cougars win spoils the homecoming of UNCW and former Wando guard Ben Eblen. The Isle of Palms native turned in one of his best games of the season in front of the hometown crowd with nine points, three assists and a steal.
"I know Nori (Johnson) and (Anthony) Stitt) and all those guys so it's always fun competing against guys you know," Eblen said. "It was definitely awesome. It meant a lot for my family and friends to be here, obviously it would have meant a lot more to come out of here with a win."
CofC sits just a half game out of second place in the CAA, trailing Hofstra and Towson, both 3-1 in league play with wins over The Cougars. CofC tips off at James Madison at 2 p.m. Saturday.