CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — No. 23 College of Charleston is growing accustomed to dealing with a strong effort from everyone they play, especially in the Colonial Athletic Conference. The Cougars hope it continues for a while longer.
Ben Burnham came off the bench to score 13 points to lead four players in double figures as College of Charleston held on to beat Delaware 75-64 for its 15th straight win on Saturday.
It’s not often a CAA team finds the national rankings. Charleston is the first in the AP Top 25 since a Navy team led by Naismith Basketball Hall-of-Famer David Robinson got to No. 18 in January 1987.
College of Charleston (16-1, 4-0) lost its second game of the season at North Carolina but hasn’t lost since and extended the nation’s longest win streak.
It wasn’t an easy victory over the Blue Hens (9-7, 1-2), who were missing their leading scorer Jameer Nelson Jr., who was averaging more than 19 points, and missed the game with left knee soreness, according to the school.
“We know we are going to get everyone’s best shot and if we are not on our game, we can lose,” College of Charleston coach Pat Kelsey said. “Most gyms we go into now, it’s going to be circled on the marketing calendar. We are ranked and if we’re not at our best and someone knocks you off, it’s going to be a court storm for that team.”
With Charleston trailing, the 6-foot-7 Burnham keyed a crucial 15-5 run to help secure the victory.
A Burnham layup, short jumper and a follow dunk gave the Cougars a 65-55 lead and some much-needed breathing room.
The Cougars connected on 8 of 10 free throws over the final two minutes to hold off Delaware.
“I thought Ben was spectacular today,” Kelsey said. “We’ve been kind of waiting for that explosion all season and he delivered for us tonight. The follow dunk he got there in the second half and the crowd just erupted.”
Delaware’s Jyare Davis and L.J. Owens kept the Blue Hens in the game in the opening half combining for 21 points.
Davis’ layup and Owens’ 3-pointer gave the Blue Hens a 15-12 advantage – Delaware’s biggest lead of the afternoon – midway through the first half.
Charleston answered with an 11-4 run and grabbed a 23-19 on Burnham’s layup with 6:07 to play in the first half.
The Cougars finished the half on a 13-5 run to take a 35-27 lead into the locker room.
Dalton Bolon finished with 13 points and Ryan Larson added 12 points and six assists for Charleston.
Delaware was led by Davis’ 18 points and Christian Ray’s 14.
Nelson, a George Washington transfer, is second in the CAA averaging 19.7 points a game and his outside shooting and versatility were missed by the Blue Hens.
“He’s one of, if not the top guard in our conference,” Kelsey said. “He’s a bucket waiting to happen. I know they missed him today.”
Delaware: The Blue Hens were going to have a difficult time against Charleston without Nelson in the lineup. That Delaware kept things as close as it did is something it can build on during CAA play.
Charleston: Some wondered if the Cougars had what it takes to keep winning after its landmark appearance in the Top 25 this week. They showed they did with consecutive victories against North Carolina A&T and the Blue Hens. Charleston could move up in the rankings this week.
The Cougars, last ranked in 2002, have relied on their 3-point shooting to win as they’ve averaged 10 made 3-pointers this season. They were just 5 of 24 from behind the arc in this one, yet still found a way to beat the defending CAA tournament champions.
Delaware returns home to play Towson on Wednesday night.
Charleston heads to UNC Wilmington on Wednesday night.
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