With CAA Tourney Looming, Delaware, Charleston Need Short Memories

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Athletes and coaches often talk of the importance of having a short memory. In the high-stakes atmosphere of late-season basketball, the quick turnaround time between games puts a particular premium on not dwelling on past results. 

For College of Charleston and Delaware, a short memory takes on even greater significance ahead of the final weekend of Colonial Athletic Association competition. 

The Cougars and Blue Hens meet Thursday in Charleston, both coming off tough CAA losses. Delaware fell short of the season sweep against Hofstra, which pulled away late on Saturday, while Charleston ended up on the wrong end of a sweep against UNC Wilmington. 

Despite the losses, the unpredictability of the CAA campaign has them still in position to score a top-three finish in the conference. That’s particularly noteworthy for Charleston, which needs a strong finish to the regular season to regain some positive momentum heading into Washington D.C. 

The loss to UNC Wilmington marked the Cougars’ fourth straight loss -- but hosting Delaware is a much-needed return home. The last three in that losing skid were all on the road. 

“It's very disappointing. We will learn from this,” Cougars coach Earl Grant said following the loss. “Obviously, we have to now focus on the two games left at home and try to finish out strong."

Charleston remains in the mix for a top-three finish despite the recent skid because it started CAA play so strong. That includes a Jan. 18 defeat of Hofstra, a Feb. 6 win over William & Mary, and a Dec. 30 win at Delaware in the first weekend of CAA play. 

That’s the Colonial’s No. 1, 2 and 3 teams heading into the final weekend, so there should be no question the Cougars can play with and beat any competition it might see in D.C. 

The win over Delaware those two months ago featured Grant Riller at his best. The savvy shooter and fast-rising NBA prospect -- and one of the five-leading scorers in CAA history after last week -- posted 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting, dished four assists and grabbed five rebounds that night in Newark.

While Riller hit right around his average the last time the Cougars and Blue Hens played, Delaware’s Nate Darling finished more than four under. Darling’s taken his scoring to another level in recent weeks, though, powering a Delaware team that languished in the CAA’s lower half during the first few weeks of league play into contention for the crown. 

The Blue Hens cannot win the regular-season Colonial championship after falling to Hofstra, but Delaware can still tie William & Mary for second-place. Martin Ingelsby also has a dangerous and hungry team that, like Charleston, has proven it can beat the conference’s best. 

“It’s tough to sweep the best team in the league,” Darling said following Saturday’s game. “It is what it is, and we'll get another shot at them.”

Whether Darling’s prediction that the Blue Hens will get another game with Hofstra comes to pass in the semifinals or the CAA championship hinges on how Delaware responds to the last time it faced the Pride. 

Darling and Riller can fill it up like few players in college basketball, but Thursday’s crucial matchup -- and the NCAA Tournament hopes of both teams moving into D.C. -- hinges largely on those around them. 

Charleston’s coming off a performance in which Riller was the lone Cougar to score in double-figures. Charleston’s a team at its best when Brevin Galloway is hitting, giving the Cougars a secondary scoring option on the perimeter to spread defenses.

Meanwhile for Delaware, Justyn Mutts was quiet in the last matchup with Charleston, but has played some of his best ball all season in recent weeks. He posted a 14-point, 13-rebound line against Hofstra, and his presence on the interior can be a crucial weapon in the coming weeks.

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