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Updated: Friday, March 4, 2005 12:16 AM EST
NCAA BASKETBALL RECAP
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(9) Louisville 94, (18) Charlotte 82

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (Ticker) -- Larry O'Bannon's record-breaking first half moved Louisville one step closer to its first regular season Conference USA title.

O'Bannon scored a school record 24 points in the first half and set a career high with 33 in his final game at Freedom Hall as ninth-ranked Louisville dominated a matchup of the top two teams in Conference USA with a 94-82 rout of No. 18 Charlotte.

With both teams entering the contest tied atop the conference standings at 12-2 with two games to play, O'Bannon made 9-of-10 shots in the first half, including all five 3-pointers, to shatter the school record for most points by a player in the opening 20 minutes. Junior Bridgeman set the mark with 21 against Rutgers on March 15, 1975 and Everick Sullivan matched it vs. Chaminade on November 24, 1989.

"This was probably the most entertaining senior night that I've ever been involved with," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "Larry O'Bannon had a very special night and these guys feed off each (other). They know who the hot person is, they run their offense, they find that person and they're an extremely unselfish group."

Behind the sizzling shooting of O'Bannon and seven points by Francisco Garcia, the Cardinals (25-4, 13-2 C-USA) jumped out to a 52-39 lead at the half. When the 49ers closed within, 56-46, with 17:29 to play, Ellis Myles made consecutive baskets and Taquan Dean hit a 3-pointer to build the cushion to 63-49 with 15:56 remaining. Charlotte (21-5, 12-3) got no closer than 11 points after that.

O'Bannon finished 11-of-16, including 5-of-9 from the arc, pulled down four rebounds and collected two steals without committing a turnover.

"Larry was a big part of our success tonight," Pitino said. "He was brilliant in all phases of the game and it really is a Hollywood ending for a very special man." Dean, who is battling mononucleosis, chipped in 27 points with six 3-pointers for Louisville, which shot 43 percent (12-of-28) from 3-point range. The Cardinals improved to 18-1 this season when making more than seven 3-pointers in a game.

Fellow senior Myles ended his time here on a high note. He scored 10 points, doubled his previous career high in assists with 10 and pulled down eight rebounds.

"He's handling (the ball), he's passing it and he's a big reason why we're winning right now," Pitino said. "I think Francisco, Larry and Taquan get a lot of credit, but if you take Ellis out of this lineup, you have last year's team and last year's team had no low-post presence. There were so many times tonight where we threw it inside and (Charlotte) came after Ellis late and he found Larry or Taquan."

After starting 16-1 in 2003-04, the Cardinals dropped nine of their final 13 games, including an 80-70 loss to Xavier in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Garcia, who was honored along with seniors O'Bannon, Myles and Otis George because he is expected to enter the NBA Draft as a junior, had 10 points, six rebounds and six assists.

Brendan Plavich scored 28 points with seven 3-pointers and Curtis Withers added 20 and nine rebounds for the 49ers, who had a seven-game win streak snapped.

Despite O'Bannon's stellar shooting, Charlotte was down just 36-35 when Withers hit a jumper with 4:21 to play. Louisville then closed the half with a 16-4 spurt. O'Bannon had one 3-pointer and eight points during the run.

"The little flurry at the end of the first half was huge," said Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz, who received a technical foul with 10 seconds left in the first half for arguing calls. "We were still hanging around - six down, four down, two down - staying with them. That little flurry put us down 13 points and made it very difficult to come back against a team as good as they are. They really shot the ball extremely well which we knew they were capable of."


© 2005 STATS, Inc
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