Big hurdle left for Cougs

John Fletcher/Special to The Post and Courier Adjehi Baru of the College of Charleston drives against Tanner Samson of Elon during the SoCon tournament semifinals Sunday night at the U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville.

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Andrew Lawrence had a first half he would probably like to forget Sunday night against Elon.

But Lawrence had a second half that he might never forget.

Lawrence scored 19 points, including 17 in the second half, and Willis Hall added 15 points to lead the College of Charleston past Elon, 68-60, on Sunday night in the Southern Conference semifinals at U.S. Cellular Center.

The Cougars (24-9) will face Davidson (25-7), a 65-62 winner over Appalachian State in the other semifinal, today at 7 p.m. The game will be nationally televised by ESPN2 with the winner getting the SoCon’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

It’s the sixth time the Cougars have advanced to the SoCon tournament title game, including their fourth time since 2007. The Cougars’ only SoCon tournament title came in 1999.

In the first 20 minutes, Lawrence, the Cougars’ team captain, was just 1 of 6 from the floor with no assists.

In the second half, the senior from London hit all four of his shots from floor, including both of his 3-point attempts, and connected on 7 of 9 free throws.

“I missed a lot of shots (Saturday against Western Carolina) and a lot of shots in the first half, but my teammates gave me a lot of confidence to keep shooting,” Lawrence said. “The guys were staying on me about keeping my confidence up and keep shooting. Having my teammates behind me was huge.”

Hall also did his part. It was Hall’s third double-double of the season, as he added 10 rebounds and three assists to his all-around hustle.

“It’s tournament time and you want to be playing your best during the tournament,” said Hall, who was 2 of 3 from 3-point range. “I’ve been shooting the ball well lately, especially here. I’ve got a lot of confidence right now.”

Another storyline for the Cougars was their defensive effort on Elon guard Jack Isenbarger, one of the top 3-point shooters in the SoCon. Isenbarger was scoreless.

“I thought Anthony Stitt and Nori Johnson did a great job on Isenbarger,” said College of Charleston coach Doug Wojcik. “He’s one of the best shooters in the league and we defended him very well.”

Free-throw shooting, which had plagued the Cougars during the regular season, has completely turned around in the tournament. The Cougars were 19 of 23, including 8 of 8 in the final 90 seconds.

The Cougars got off another fast start, hitting their first four shots from the floor and taking an 11-0 lead on Adjehi Baru’s layup with 15:20 to play.

The Phoenix answered with a 9-0 run as the Cougars led just 25-19 at halftime.

The Cougars pushed their advantage to 33-21 as Lawrence scored six of Charleston’s first seven points to start the second half.

Anthony Thomas’ 3-pointer gave the Cougars a 44-32 lead, but Elon went on a 9-0 run to cut it to 44-41 on Tanner Samson’s free throw with 10:22 to play.

But each time Elon got close, the Cougars answered. The Pheonix got as close as 56-52, but Thomas hit a layup and a scored on a jump hook to push the advantage to 60-52 with 58.2 seconds to play.

“We need to manage the end of the game better,” Wojcik said.

From there it became a free-throw shooting contest, which the Cougars easily won.

The Cougars face a Davidson team they’ve lost to twice already, 77-68 on Jan. 19 and 75-59 on Feb. 14 at TD Arena.

“Two best teams are left,” Wojcik said. “Davidson has a great team, we all know that. There’s an NCAA tournament bid on the line. What could you ask for.”