With just under five minutes left in the game, the College of Charleston appeared to be well on its way to its 13th straight win over Samford.
The Cougars held a nine-point over the Bulldogs, a team they’d beaten 12 straight games, with win No. 13 all but a formality.
But the Bulldogs, who had just two wins over Division I teams this season coming into the game, came storming back, finishing on an 18-4 run and shocking the crowd of 3,610 at TD Arena on Thursday night with a 62-57 victory.
Bulldogs guard Raijon Kelly finished with 15 points, including five points over the final two minutes.
“We’ve been preaching the same thing to the kids all season about not giving up and they took that to heart tonight,” said Samford coach Bennie Seltzer. “They just kept grinding away and found a way to win. I couldn’t be prouder of the way they finished the game.”
The Cougars (10-5, 2-1 in SoCon) were a perfect 12-0 against Samford (4-12, 2-1 in SoCon) in a series that stretched back to the 1990s when the Bulldogs and Cougars played in the Trans America Athletic Conference.
It had been a sluggish first half for the College of Charleston, but the Cougars had battled back and seemed in control when sophomore center Adjehi Baru connected on a layup to give them a 53-44 lead with 4:53 left in regulation.
“We were playing well at that point and then we just made a lot of reckless turnovers,” said Cougars guard Andrew Lawrence, who finished with 14 points and three rebounds. “Give Samford a lot of credit, they hit a lot of tough shots down the stretch. They are obviously a lot better than their record showed today.”
The Bulldogs missed a shot on their next possession, but Baru’s outlet pass was intercepted by Will Cook, who immediately connected on a 3-pointer to close the gap to 53-47 with 4:25 to play.
It was the beginning of the end for the Cougars.
Tim Williams hit back-to-back layups and Kelly added a short jumper as the Bulldogs got to within 55-53 with 2:04 to play.
Two turnovers by the Cougars led to back-to-back 3-pointers from Clide Geffrard and Connor Miller that gave the Bulldogs a 59-55 lead 23.2 seconds to play. The Bulldogs connected on 11 of 22 3-pointers during the game.
“They shot the (3-pointer) really well,” said College of Charleston coach Doug Wojcik.
“That’s the best anyone has shot the three on us this season. We’d been pretty good all season at defending the three, but didn’t do a good job tonight.”
Lawrence made a driving layup with 17.4 seconds to play to close the gap to 59-57. The Cougars immediately fouled Kelly, who made one of two free throws.
With the game on the line, Lawrence, who had hit a crucial 3-pointer in the Cougars 60-56 win over Furman this past Saturday, took an off-balanced shot from the top of the key with about eight seconds left that clanked off the rim.
“I want the ball in that situation. I want to take that shot,” Lawrence said. “It probably wasn’t the best shot I could have taken, but I want to take that shot for this team.”
Wojcik had no problem with his senior guard taking the final shot, only his shot selection.
“It wasn’t a good possession,” Wojcik said. “There’s no doubt I want Andrew taking the last shot, it just wasn’t a good possession. There was still plenty of time.”
The loss overshadowed an excellent game for Baru, who finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.
“Adjehi really played well,” Wojcik said. “We normally win when he’s playing well for us.”
The Cougars will face Chattanooga on Saturday at 4 p.m., at TD Arena.