WASHINGTON — The “what ifs” are officially a thing of the past for this season’s College of Charleston men’s basketball team. After tonight, the main question surrounding the Cougars, the winningest team in Division 1 in 2022-23, is just as simple: what now?
Charleston, the No. 2 seed and co-champion of the Colonial Athletic Association, completed its magical season in thrilling fashion, winning the CAA Tournament championship game 63-58 over No. 4 seed UNC Wilmington inside of the Entertainment & Sports Arena on Monday night. After seeing a nine-point lead turn into an eight-point deficit with just over six minutes remaining, the Cougars closed the game on an 18-5 run, with Ryan Larson scoring six points during a 12-0 surge immediately after the Seahawks build their 53-45 lead.
The win clinched Charleston’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 2018.
No team in the country has more victories than the 31 the Cougars now have, which included a victory in the Charleston Classic in-season tournament — with a win against Virginia Tech in that tourney’s title game — that first put the Cougars on notice on a national scale. Although rising to as high as No. 18 in the Associated Press Poll, the Cougars suffered a two-game losing streak, including a home defeat against eventual co-champion Hofstra, that threw their at-large credentials into a state of flux. A loss in tonight’s final would have left the Cougars’ record at 30-4, and every single team in the past 30 years to reach 30 wins in a season has participated in the NCAA Tournament, either as a conference champion or an at-large selection.
A 30-win team with a NET ranking of 51 and without a Quadrant 1 victory, which is what Charleston’s resume would have looked like with a defeat, would have been a conundrum for the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. Tonight’s victory by the Cougars put all of those possible decisions on ice.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Monday’s championship game, with the photos taken by DC-area photographer Clifford Ray Williams. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 26 pictures in total.