With six minutes and 55 seconds to play in regulation, College of Charleston freshman guard Canyon Barry knocked down a 17-foot jump shot from the wing.
With Barry’s basket, the Cougars trailed third-ranked Louisville by just three points — 48-45 — as a nervous hush fell over the partisan Cardinal crowd of nearly 21,000 at the KFC Yum! Center.
Anything seemed possible.
But the defending national champions — led by senior All-American guard Russ Smith’s 21 points — flexed their collective muscles over the final six minutes, outscoring Charleston 22-3 down the stretch, to win 70-48 Saturday afternoon in the season opener for both schools.
The 22-point loss was not indicative of how close the game was for 33 of the 40 minutes. The Cougars (0-1) led late in the first half, tied the game on two different occasions in the second half, and never trailed by more than two possessions until Louisville (1-0) went on their run to end the game.
“This is the best effort I’ve had against a top-five team,” said College of Charleston coach Doug Wojcik. “My teams at Tulsa never really had a shot when we played those Memphis teams. For the longest time it was a game. Mostly, I’m just disappointed that it didn’t go down to the wire. It was a really great effort. Overall, we’re going to be a good team. I’m so proud of the guys. That was not a 22-point game.”
After Barry’s basket, Smith began to take over the game, connecting on a couple of three throws and then driving the lane and finding Montrezl Harrell and Wayne Blackshear on back-to-back possessions for easy baskets to push the Cardinals lead to nine points, 54-45, with 5:05 to play.
The Cougars didn’t score again until freshman Joe Chealey hit a layup with 2:42 to play to end a 13-0 run by the Cardinals.
“We got into foul trouble and then we got a little careless with the basketball,” Wojcik said. “If we could have gotten down to the four-minute mark with one possession game, then I think anything could have happened.”
The play of the three freshmen — Barry, who led the Cougars with 10 points, Chealey (8 points) and Jonathan Burroughs-Cook (3 points) — was encouraging against one of the elite teams in the nation.
“Canyon Barry made a ton of basketball plays today,” Wojcik said. “Joe Chealey had no problem with the ball. No one took the ball from him. Both of those kids made some great plays in the game. Johnathan Burroughs-Cook came off the bench and made a big three in the second half. They (freshmen) are going to learn as we go, which is great.”
Unlike a year ago when Louisville led from start to finish on its way to an easy 80-32 victory, the Cougars kept the game close. The Cougars led by as many as three points during the first half as the Cardinals appeared to be caught up in the emotion of their pre-game ceremony which featured the unveiling of their national championship banner.
Despite turning the ball over 21 times, it was an improvement from a year ago when the Cougars turned the ball over 27 times in the blowout loss.
Foul trouble plagued the Cougars throughout the game. Senior forward Willis Hall fouled out and Adjehi Baru, Barry and Chealey were in foul trouble from the first half on.
“We had to juggle the lineup,” Wojcik said. “We had 22 fouls and last year we averaged 14 per game.”
The Cardinals dominated where one might expect in points in the paint (36-18), points off turnovers (27-6), second-chance points (11-0), offensive rebounds (20-10) and fast-break points (10-0). Still, the Cougars outshot the Cardinals, 41.7 percent to 38.2 percent, and hold their own on the boards, getting out-rebounded by just three, 41-38.
“We felt comfortable, felt big enough and felt athletic enough (against Louisville),” Wojcik said. “We are a pretty good defensive team. There were a lot of positives for us.”
Barry couldn’t think of a better place to start his college basketball career.
“It was an awesome experience to play here,” Barry said. “What more could you want for your first college game to play against one of the best teams in the country? It was a great team effort, but we didn’t convert in the second half. They are a really good team and are well coached, and that’s what you expect from the defending national champions.”
College of Charleston's Canyon Barry left, attempts to get through the defense of Louisville's Chris Jones during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, in Louisville, Ky. Louisville defeated the College of Charleston 70-48. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)×
Louisville's Russ Smith, left, attempts to steal the ball from the College of Charleston's Canyon Barry during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, in Louisville, Ky. Louisville defeated the College of Charleston 70-48. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)×
Louisville's Russ Smith goes in for a layup during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against the College of Charleston, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, in Louisville, Ky. Louisville defeated the College of Charleston 70-48. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)×