The College of Charleston has been a second-half team all season, but with a trip to the NCAA Tournament on the line, Doug Wojcik’s Cougars put themselves in a first-half hole they could not escape.
Charleston missed 18 of its first 23 shots and fell behind by as many as 12 points in the first half against Davidson in the Southern Conference Tournament final on Monday night, eventually losing 74-55 in the program’s final game before moving to the Colonial Athletic Conference.
The Cougars won the first SoCon Tournament they competed in, in 1999, but have been unable to duplicate that feat in five trips to the title game since. Davidson will represent the conference in the NCAA Tournament for the 12th time, while Charleston will await word on a possible trip to one of the postseason invitational tournaments.
While Charleston was able to hold Davidson at bay on the three-point line, the Wildcats dominated the short game, shooting a scorching 68.5 percent from inside the arc. On their end of the court, the Cougars could not get anything going offensively; they finished at 17-of-57 from the field and 1-of-10 from the three-point line. Only an impressive 20-of-25 performance from the free-throw line kept the scoreline from being more lopsided.
The Cougars cut the lead to six early in the second half, and all-tournament selection Andrew Lawrence converted a three-point play with 10:58 remaining to cut the lead back to eight, at 56-48. But that was Charleston’s last field goal, as Davidson outscored the Cougars 18-7 over the final 10 minutes.
“They are really good,” Wojcik said, when asked about Davidson. “I give them a lot of credit. They switch (on defense), they really body up in the post, they gang-rebound. Now, they rebound as a team. I give them a lot of credit; I really do. It’s the truth: They are a very good team. And this particular year, with those upperclassmen, they’re really, really good.”
Lawrence led the Cougars with 19 points, but the Wildcats’ strong defense held him without a single assist. Adjehi Baru, who was also selected to the all-tournament team, had 11 points, but was limited to four rebounds. The Wildcats out-rebounded the Cougars, 37-33, and mitigated Charleston’s 13-6 edge on the offensive glass by holding the Cougars to seven second-chance points.
Despite the lackluster loss Monday night, Lawrence is proud of how the team coalesced into a 24-win team, after winning only 19 games and suffering a first-round tournament loss last season.
“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Coach Wojcik,” Lawrence said after the game. “He’s made us into more of a family than we’ve ever been. This is the tightest unit we’ve been since I’ve been here. And I feel like it’s really showed. Tonight, we just got beat by the better team. Knowing that we were leaving the conference doesn’t really play into it. We just want to win every game when we step on the court, and that’s what really matters to us. … I’m proud of the way my guys battled all year, and I just give Davidson a lot of credit.”
Now, the waiting game begins for Charleston. With the NCAA Tournament off the board, the Cougars will wait by the phone on Selection Sunday to see if they are invited to continue their season.
“We’ll continue if we can, but we won’t get in the NIT. There’s no way, RPI-wise,” Wojcik said, referring to the Ratings Percentage Index that the NCAA uses to rank all Division I teams. “We’ve got 24 Division I wins, and we’ve played five BCS schools. … If we have an opportunity to play in the (College Basketball Invitational), I think we will. It’s an honor. I’d have everyone back: Matt Sundberg, and Andrew Lawrence, and with tournament experience. Absolutely.”