UNCW comes up short vs. Charleston in CAA final

A four-minutes scoring drought late in the second half sunk the Seahawks

Charleston guard Reyne Smith, right, shoots over UNC Wilmington guard Shykeim Phillips during the Cougars’s win Tuesday in the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament championship game in Washington, D.C. (Nick Wass / AP Photo)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Ryan Larson scored 23 points and his effort at both of ends of the floor helped send Charleston past upset-minded UNC Wilmington 63-58 on Tuesday night in the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament championship and clinch an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

It’s Charleston’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2018 and sixth overall.

Larson, a 6-foot-1 senior, scored 15 points after halftime, making 4 of 7 from 3-point range after missing his first two 3s before the break. He came up with all four of his steals after halftime, too.

Larson had pair of steals — one of which led to a breakaway layup — and banked in a 3-pointer with the Cougars (31-3) in the midst of a late 12-0 run they used to secure the win.

“I’m just so proud of this team,” said Larson, who transferred from Wofford where he played from 2018-22. “Everyone doubted us all year and we kept proving them wrong; kept winning games. Total team effort today.”

Ante Brzovic scored 16 points for Charleston which currently has the highest win total in Division I-play this season.

UNC Wilmington led 27-24 at intermission before Charleston outscored the Seawolves 18-7 over the first 5:53 of the second half for a 42-34 lead. The Seahawks countered with 15-0 run with Trazarien White scoring eight and Amari Kelly six and UNCW led 49-42 with 9:52 left. Charleston took the lead for good on Larson’s breakaway layup off the steal for a 55-53 lead with 3:33 left and the Seahawks went into an almost four-minute scoring drought.

The Cougars entered the tournament as the second seed against fourth-seed UNCW (24-10), which was coming off an overtime win the night before against top-seeded Hofstra.

Kelly and White each scored 16 points for the Seahawks.