Drexel did its best to hang around in the first Colonial Athletic Association game of the season with the team that received the most preseason first-place votes in the conference, Charleston. The Dragons were within six points with less than three minutes to play.

But ultimately, potential NBA prospect Grant Riller and the Cougars were too much for Drexel and defeated the Dragons, 76-65, at the Daskalakis Athletic Center on Saturday afternoon.

The dagger came with 1 minute, 41 seconds to play when Drexel forward Sam Green got a steal on the defensive end and found guard Zach Walton, making his fourth consecutive start, in the lane. He put up a layup that could have made it a five-point game but was called for a charge. On the other end, Charleston guard Zep Jasper hit a three-pointer, and the Cougars closed out the win.

Grant Riller, left, of College of Charleston tries to dunk over James Butler of Drexel during the 1st half on Dec. 28, 2019.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Grant Riller, left, of College of Charleston tries to dunk over James Butler of Drexel during the 1st half on Dec. 28, 2019.

Keys to the game

Riller, the Colonial’s preseason player of the year, was 9-of-16 from the field and finished with 22 points and seven rebounds. He went into the game averaging 21 points per game and found ways to take over on offense at times. Jasper added 12 points, including five in the last two minutes, and Brevin Galloway had 16. At halftime, four players scored for Charleston, but three (Riller, Galloway and forward Sam Miller) were in double figures.

Charleston as a team went into Saturday’s game shooting just 31% from three. Against Drexel, the Cougars were 11-of-20 (55%) from beyond the arc and connected on four crucial threes within the last eight minutes to pull away.

Drexel used a full-court press for much of the second half to force Charleston into mistakes, including 11 turnovers that the Dragons turned into 19 points. Drexel also grabbed 14 offensive rebounds, eight of which came from forward James Butler. But the Dragons managed only 12 second-chance points from those rebounds and shot 23-of-59 (40%) from the field.

Quotable

“If we played a perfect game and came up 11 short, that’s a different kind of feeling. We were far from perfect. Our guys know that.” — Drexel head coach Zach Spiker

“[Riller] is a handful. He gets to the basket and can finish in traffic. It’s fun competing against him. We have a mutual respect for each other.” –– Drexel guard Camren Wynter

James Butler, left, of Drexel shoots against Jaylen McManus of Charleston during the 1st half on Dec. 28, 2019.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
James Butler, left, of Drexel shoots against Jaylen McManus of Charleston during the 1st half on Dec. 28, 2019.

Takeaways

Butler was Drexel’s best overall player on Saturday, adding 18 points to his 13 rebounds and eight offensive boards. He was 7-of-11 from the field and made several plays down the stretch to keep Drexel in the game. Wynter led the team in scoring with 21 points but was less efficient, shooting 6-of-16 from the field with six turnovers.

Charleston received the most first-place votes in the Colonial’s preseason poll and looked the part on Saturday. Four of the Cougars’ starting five finished in double figures in scoring, and the fifth, Jaylen McManus, had nine points, including a crucial three with 2:16 to play. Drexel will get another crack at Charleston in the regular season finale on Feb. 29 in South Carolina.