These Cougars have some fight in them.
Battling throughout the entire game, the College of Charleston dropped a tight contest to defending national champion Connecticut, 65-57, in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tipoff tournament.
Charleston got off to a rocky start against the Huskies, quickly falling into a 10-2 hole early in the first half as they struggled to find the right defense to control Connecticut’s high-powered attack.
Connecticut extended to a 16-6 lead with 12 minutes remaining in the first half, but the Cougars went on a 10-2 run, led by back-to-back threes from Canyon Barry, to trim the deficit to 18-16.
Barry’s three-pointer with 8:18 would be the last field goal of the first half for Charleston. Usually, that would prove costly against a talented Connecticut team, but the Huskies also experienced a drought of their own. Connecticut went eight minutes without a field goal, until center Amida Brimah knocked down a jumper with 5:43 left.
Connecticut took a 30-21 lead into halftime on back-to-back three pointers from wingman Daniel Hamilton. Both the Cougars and Huskies shot under 35 percent in the first half.
After the break, the Huskies came out firing, extending to a 12-point lead. The Cougars closed the gap to 37-32 on two free throws from guard Joe Chealey before a bad turnover by Barry led to a Connecticut three ball.
Connecticut built their lead back to 11 on a floater from the American Athletic Conference’s preseason player of the year, Ryan Boatright.
Anthony Stitt would claw the Cougars back with two straight makes from beyond the arc, drawing within 45-40 with 10 minutes remaining.
After a Huskies basket, freshman Cameron Johnson showed his stripes by nailing a three to cut the score to 47-43. Boatright immediately converted on a three-point play, which was followed by a Charleston miss and another score by Connecticut.
Chealey converted on a layup to trim the Cougars’ deficit to five with 5:15 left, but Boatright showed his craftiness by driving for a layup of his own. Adheji Baru would make two free throws for Charleston to keep the Cougars within five.
With 22 seconds remaining, Stitt buried a three to bring Charleston within four at 61-57, but that would be as close as the Cougars would get, as a miss by Barry down six would seal the victory for Connecticut.
Stitt led the way for Charleston, scoring 17 points. Baru turned in yet another double double (12 points, 10 rebounds) against a lengthy Connecticut front line. Chealey (12) and Barry (10) also scored in double figures.
Charleston will now face Texas A&M at noon on Friday. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU and the WatchESPN app.