CHARLESTON, S.C. – Charleston Southern closes out 2016 and the opening weekend of Big South Conference play Saturday against Liberty. Tipoff at the Buc Dome is set for 2 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on the Big South Network.
*Promotion: Freeze the Flames with Princess Elsa – FREE ADMISSION for friends of family of Elsa and the Bucs! Princess Elsa, from the popular children's movie Frozen, will be on hand for photos. Fans will also have the chance to enter the Build-A-Snowman contest and win prizes while rooting on the Bucs against the rival Flames.
About 40 hours after facing the Big South's preseason favorite, CSU (4-8, 0-1 Big South) squares off against the number two pick. Liberty (6-8, 1-0 Big South) tipped off league play with a 77-61 win at Presbyterian on Thursday. The Flames surged to an unexpected 10-8 conference mark last year as Ritchie McKay earned Big South Coach of the Year honors in his return to the Liberty sideline.
CSU played well for significant portions of Thursday's game but a veteran Winthrop squad pulled away in the second half behind blistering 61.5 percent shooting. The Bucs had built a ten-point lead midway through the first half. Armel Potter and Javis Howard played leading roles in defeat. Potter hit for a team-high 15 points while Howard matched a career-high with 12 rebounds, including nine offensive boards.
CSU has swept the season series from Liberty each of the last two years, and is on a five-game winning streak against the Flames. The Bucs forged a big early lead and held on for a seven-point victory in Lynchburg last December. A month later, CSU prevailed by a point on two Potter free throws with 31 seconds left.
To even its conference mark before heading on the road for two games next week, CSU will have to slow down the Big South's top three-point shooting team. Liberty is sinking 9.5 threes per game at a nearly 38 percent clip. Guard Ryan Kemrite is Liberty's leading scorer and shoots 47.5 percent from downtown, tops in the conference. Kemrite tallied 16 points, and the Flames hit 12-of-26 tries from deep to beat Presbyterian. Liberty is playing without Caleb Homesley, who had been its second leading scorer before going down with a season-ending knee injury three weeks ago.
The Bucs will hope to take advantage on the glass against a Liberty club that has struggled in that department. The Flames are last in the Big South in offensive rebounds and eighth in rebounding margin. Conversely, CSU is second in the league in offensive boards and third in rebounding margin.
Howard back at it on the boards
Javis Howard leads the Big South in offensive rebounds once again after posting nine against Winthrop. Howard had been limited to just ten total rebounds in CSU's previous four games. The 6-8 junior has grabbed three or more offensive boards seven times this year.
Keeling's consistent scoring
CSU features one of the Big South's top freshman guards for the second straight year. A season after Armel Potter garnered all-freshman honors, Christian Keeling is well on his way to doing so. Keeling is CSU's leading scorer and ranks among the league's top-ten in scoring (5th), field goal percentage (5th), rebounding (6th) and free-throw percentage (8th). He has twice been named Big South Freshman of the Week.
Finding three-point stroke
CSU is looking to regain its three-point shooting form. The Bucs made 12 or more threes in three consecutive games to open December but have gone just 15-of-64 (23%) from beyond the arc in their last three contests. Two of those games, however, came against power conference opponents in Georgia and Virginia Tech. Prior to last year, CSU had ranked top-11 nationally in threes made and attempted three years in a row.
Young Bucs learning on the fly
CSU welcomed seven new players to its program this year, and five are seeing significant playing time. Christian Keeling and Cortez Mitchell are doing so in a starting role, while Jordan Jones, Jamar Martin and Jamal Thomas are all proving to be factors off the bench. Antwan Maxwell, who redshirted last year, has also found a spot in the rotation. Junior Javis Howard is the Bucs' veteran. Zach Durkee and Rae Robinson are in their third seasons as well but both redshirted in the 2014-15, helping CSU claim the Big South regular season title from the scout team.