ABILENE, Tex. – Armel Potter hit a pull-up jumper with four seconds left to cap a comeback from a 17-point second half deficit and lift Charleston Southern over Abilene Christian, 66-65, at Moody Coliseum on Tuesday.
CSU (2-2) trailed 52-35 with 12:33 remaining before rallying to bounce back from a tough loss to USC Upstate on Saturday. Potter dribbled around a screen from Javis Howard and buried a jumper from inside the top of the key to provide the final difference. Abilene's (2-1) Jaylen Franklin missed a running three-pointer at the buzzer to seal the outcome.
Potter netted 21 of his game-high 26 points after halftime to pace the Bucs. He tallied 18 of those markers over the final 11:16 to key the late charge. Potter had three treys during that stretch, including one to cut the Wildcats' lead to 65-64 at the 42 second mark.
CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh was thrilled to see his team show resolve on the road.
"It really was big," Radebaugh said. "We're down 17 points with about 12 minutes to go and we've preached all fall to be tough – be mentally tough, be physically tough. Really for the first time this season, the last 12 minutes of the game, we executed our system. We actually executed the way we're capable of executing. That's a really young team, a really inexperienced team and to come in here and win like that on the road against a good team is a big accomplishment."
Christian Keeling continued an excellent start to his freshman season with 20 points, including 15 in the second half. Jaren Lewis led Abilene with 18 points, while Franklin and Hayden Howell each added 12.
CSU jumpstarted its comeback by staging a 13-0 run over just 2:08 of game time, narrowing a 15-point deficit to two. Keeling opened the spurt with a jumper and added a free throw after being fouled hard by Abilene's Isaiah Tripp. Potter then knocked down a triple, and he and Jamar Martin made layups to cut the gap to five. Keeling recorded an old fashioned three-point play, giving the Bucs even more energy and setting up the closing sequence.
"We needed this one badly after losing a tough one to Upstate," said Potter after finishing two points off his career high. "We really needed this one. It showed a lot of character, especially being down 17. It just shows the character of our whole team, even our bench. Everybody helped today and everybody contributed. We kept pushing the whole game. We just stayed tough and kept fighting."
Abilene forced a series of early turnovers to force CSU into a hole. The Wildcats had three dunks as part of a 12-1 flurry to open the game. CSU responded with a 14 of the next 19, though, to draw within two on a Potter layup off a look-ahead pass from Ugo Mmonu.
Abilene pushed its edge back out to take a 34-22 advantage into intermission. Howell scored in the paint twice late in the stanza to help account for that margin.
In addition to Potter and Keeling's scoring exploits, Radebaugh was also pleased to see the Bucs take a step forward defensively.
"Defensively, we did a really good job with our in-game execution. As poorly as we did against Upstate, we did that well tonight."
"It was so much fun to see our team that happy," Radebaugh continued. "This team has worked really hard. We're still trying to find ourselves. That speaks volumes of our potential. We're not there yet, we're not even close, but we have a lot of potential to be a good basketball team and we anticipate at some point and time this season, we're gonna be a really good team."
CSU will return home to play Toccoa Falls this Saturday, Nov. 26. Tipoff at the Buc Dome is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.