(photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
The Bluejays' size and depth overwhelmed the Illinois squad from the outset as Charleston rolled to an 84-54 victory on Tuesday night.
Kewain Gant (6-8) led Charleston with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Sophomore Ashton Farmer (6-6) had 12 points and eight boards.
"If they can't stop us, we're going to punch it inside over and over until they do," said Charleston head coach Danny Farmer. "We needed a breather. We feel our first six games are as tough as any team's around. Our goal was to be 4-2 after those six games and we were very happy after doing it."
The Bluejays also got solid performances from other positions on Tuesday.
Dramel Jones provided a big spark off the bench, scoring 13 points. Point guard Marcus Biles finished with 12, and shooting guard Deshaundray Hamilton contributed 10.
Trailing 11-4 in the first quarter, Meridian (5-2) was dealt a heavy blow when standout Travis Easley was injured attempting a slam dunk.
Easley missed the shot, but held on to the rim. His legs were taken out from under him and he fell straight on his back. After lying on the court for 25 minutes, he was carried off and never returned.
"My gut feeling tells me he's not seriously hurt," said Meridian coach Jeff Mandrell after the game. "Hopefully when he landed on his back, he just bruised it."
Easley is a three-year starter on the team.
"If he's not our best player, he's one of the top two," said Mandrell. "(His injury) put us out of sync."
When play resumed, Biles nailed a pair of 3-pointers and Charleston held a 19-6 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Bluejays opened the second frame with a 10-2 run, capped off by a crowd-pleasing dunk by Gant to increase the lead to 29-12.
Charleston (5-2) then looked to its bench, putting A.H. Marshall, Dadrian Jones, Joshua Strayhorn and Dramel Jones into the game.
The Bluejays experienced no letdown with the move, finishing the second quarter on a 10-4 run to make it 45-20 at halftime.
On the night, Charleston's bench scored 35 points.
"We got kids in the game that haven't played much in the past six games," said Farmer. "I wanted them to get some experience, because we may need them up the road in an important game. Those guys are hungry. The starting five kind of get lackadaisical at times, but those (second five) keep the pressure on."
Charleston put it on cruise control in the second half, outscoring Meridian 16-14 in the third, then 23-20 in the fourth. The second half was highlighted by dunks from Farmer and Strayhorn, and an impressive runner through the lane by pint-sized Meridian point guard Aaron Britton. Marcus Hines led all Meridian scorers with 17 points. Robert Williams contributed 12.
"We didn't play very well, but this is a good early season game against a physical team," said Mandrell. "(Charleston) is big, they're good and it was on their floor. They had a lot to do with us playing poorly."