CofC Take CAA Championship, Down UNCW 63-58
By: Jeff Walker, Sports Writer
Less than 24 hours after downing 3rd seeded Towson in the CAA semifinals, the College of Charleston had to do battle with 4th seeded UNC Wilmington, with the victor receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Charleston beat UNCW twice during the regular season, including a 93-61 drubbing a month ago at TD Arena.
But like the Cougars, the Seahawks came to Washington DC on a mission, not only to win the championship but to deliver payback to Charleston. In what was one of the toughest matchups for CofC this season, the Cougars had to erase a low scoring first half including 2 of 14 from long range, and find ways to put the ball in the basket.
Fortunately Charleston trailed by only three at intermission (27-24) and found enough second half mojo to propel them to an five point victory, downing UNCW 63-58 and securing an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Charleston move to 31-3 on the season, a career best for the Cougars, and extend their winning streak to 10.
It was pretty much the Ryan Larson show after the break. The transfer graduate student from Wofford was zoned in during the final 20 minutes of play finishing with a game high 23 points, going 9 of 16 from the field, including 4 of 9 from long range to go along with four much needed steals. Ante Brzovic went 6 of 10 from the floor and 4 of 5 from the foul line to chip in 16 points for the Cougars.
Although at times Larson was a one man band, he doled out praise all around. “I’m just so proud of this team. Everyone doubted us all year. We kept proving them wrong and winning games. It was a total team effort. They’re a great offensive and defensive team. There’s a reason they are here. We made the big shots when we needed them.”
Larson who had a slow start against Towson on Monday night grabbed a couple of offensive rebounds for easy layups as CofC took an early lead. But missed threes (1 of 8) and hurried shots soon found Charleston trailing. Midway through the opening period the Cougars trailed 12-11. And old fashioned 3-pt. play from Pat Robinson III put CofC ups 22-11 with 4:28 remaining. A 6-2 run by UNCW to close out the first half would give the Seahawks a five point margin at the break.
Coach Kelsey’s halftime pep talk must have been inspiring as the Cougars went right to work. Larson bookended a pair of treys with Brzovic adding eight straight as the Cougars got behind a 18-7 run that found them up 42-34 inside the first six minutes of play.
Just as quick as the Cougars found offense, they lost if for several minutes as UNCW scored 15 unanswered, up 47-42 with just over 11 minutes remaining. The Cougars got back on track. A big three from Larson followed one from the foul line tied the contest at 53 all with 3:47 left in regulation.
It wasn’t pretty but the Cougars and Larson managed to step up when they needed it the most, causing three turnovers as well as perfectly timed block from Ben Burnham that helped secure a three point lead with just a minute to go. Brzovic beat the buzzer for two, giving the Cougars a five point margin with 29 seconds on the clock.
The Seahawks would find the rim in quick fashion, but two from the foul line from Reyne Smith padded the two possession advantage as UNCW missed the mark on several attempts in the final 12 seconds allowing the Cougars to punch their card to the big dance. It’s their first conference championship since 2018. Charleston move to 31-3 on the season, a career best for the Cougars.
Two Seahawks hit for double figures with Trazarien White and Amari Kelly each scoring 16 apiece. Amari hauled in a game best nine rebounds. As a team the Seahawks outrebounded the Cougars 35 to 30, which is the only stat they prevailed in. Aside from that the stats were even with CofC doubling up from long range (6 to 3). With the loss UNC Wilmington fall to 24-10 overall.
Asked to assess his season CofC Head Coach Pat Kelsey gave proper due. “God is great. God is great. I am so blessed to coach at the College of Charleston.” Coach added this for college basketball fans. “Some say the greatest spectacle of sports is the super bowl, but I believe it’s March Madness.”
The College of Charleston Cougars will await the upcoming selections this coming Sunday to see who and where they will play.
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