No. 9 Louisville 94, No. 18 Charlotte 82
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)—Larry O’Bannon turned his final home game into the biggest night of his career.
The Louisville native scored a career-high 33 points—26 in the first half — to help No. 9 Louisville clinch a share of the Conference USA regular-season title with a 94-82 victory over No. 18 Charlotte on Thursday night.
“Your hometown fans are going to remember you in your last game,” O’Bannon said. “I didn’t know it was going to be like that.”
The 6-foot-4 O’Bannon, one of three seniors playing in Freedom Hall for the last time, tied a school record for points in a half, hitting his first five 3-pointers.
“Larry O’Bannon had a very, very special night,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “It was a Hollywood ending for a nice young man.”
Junior Taquan Dean made six 3-pointers and added 27 points for Louisville (25-4, 13-2 Conference USA), which clinched the top seed in next week’s league tournament in Memphis, Tenn.
Dean, diagnosed with mononucleosis in late February, missed a career high by four points.
“I wasn’t feeling it, I was exhausted,” Dean said. “Once I hit a couple of shots, then things started to go.”
Ellis Myles had a career-high 10 assists for the Cardinals, who can secure their first outright regular-season Conference USA championship with a victory at DePaul on Saturday.
Myles, a fifth-year senior, is the last holdover from the Denny Crum era. He has never played in the NCAA tournament after missing last season to recover from a knee injury he suffered the previous year.
“It was a very emotional night for me and the team,” Myles said. “Nobody thought I would make it this far.”
But the night belonged to O’Bannon, who took over the game during a fast-paced, competitive first half.
Constantly finding gaps in Charlotte’s defense, the Louisville native was 9-of-10 from the field in the opening 20 minutes and scored eight points during a half-ending 16-4 run.
“I just hit my first couple of 3s and my teammates started looking for me,” O’Bannon said. “I do it every day in practice. I guess it just carried over.”
Brendan Plavich, guarded by O’Bannon much of the game, hit seven 3-pointers and scored 28 points for the 49ers (21-5, 12-3), who had a seven-game winning streak snapped.
O’Bannon’s game overshadowed an impressive shooting display by Plavich, who came into the game second in the nation in 3-pointers per game. Plavich made five 3-pointers in the first half, two of them from 30 feet.
“He was shooting from half-court, it seemed like,” Dean said. “That’s kind of hard to stop.”
Plavich’s fourth 3-pointer gave Charlotte a 25-24 lead, but O’Bannon answered with a 3-pointer a minute later and Louisville never trailed again.
Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz, angered when E.J. Drayton was whistled for fouling O’Bannon, drew a technical foul with 10.1 seconds left in the half. Francisco Garcia and O’Bannon hit two free throws apiece to boost the lead to 13 by halftime.
The cold-shooting 49ers never made a move in the second half, going 5 minutes without a field goal during one stretch.
O’Bannon, who scored a career high 30 against Marquette in January, cooled off in the second half, missing three shots. But he set a new career high with a reverse layup with 6:04 left. He was fouled on the play and hit the free throw as the crowd chanted “Lar-ree! Lar-ree!”
O’Bannon left the floor with 1:01 to go, waving to the fans and embracing teammates as the chant resumed.
“You couldn’t ask for anything better,” he said. “I never thought of a night like this. You don’t dream it up.”
The 49ers made 13 3-pointers but shot 36 percent overall (24 of 66), their lowest output in four games.
“It was obviously a very difficult night for us,” Lutz said. “We knew we had to play really well with everything to have a chance to win. Obviously, we fell short of that.”
Prior to tipoff, a video montage chronicled the careers of seniors Otis George, Ellis Myles and O’Bannon and Garcia, a junior who will leave for the NBA after this season. Pitino gave a framed jersey to each player.
“Without those guys, we’re nothing,” Pitino said.
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