CHARLESTON, S.C. – Charleston Southern led wire-to-wire to record its second straight convincing win, defeating Longwood, 76-61, on Saturday at the Buc Dome.
CSU (7-12, 3-5 Big South) relied on much of the same formula it used in Thursday's rout of Presbyterian. The Bucs built a big early lead and maintained it behind Christian Keeling's scoring and stout defense and rebounding.
Keeling poured in 19 of his 28 points in the second half to help CSU pull away after Longwood (6-13, 3-5 Big South) drew within four shortly after halftime. Longwood entered the game shooting 49 percent in Big South play but was limited to 40 percent shooting and harassed into 16 turnovers. CSU also out-rebounded Longwood by three and was particularly active on the offensive glass, racking up an 18-9 advantage in second chance points. Javis Howard spearheaded that cause with a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds, including six offensive boards.
CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh continues to be enthused by the progress his young club has made in the new year.
"It was a solid win," Radebaugh said. "We're playing better. Our team is improved. That's a two win week and we're certainly starting to see some growth from our team. That's a very difficult team to defend. They're shooting 49 percent from the floor in the league and have a lot of offensive weapons. For the most part, we did a really good job defensively. Forty percent is our number and we met that for the third time in four games."
Although it was not their crispest effort, Radebaugh felt the Bucs regrouped to take control for good early in the second stanza. Junior Cortez Mitchell tallied ten of his points after intermission to help CSU create some distance.
"I thought we had probably our best halftime of the year," Radebaugh said. "We really committed to playing better. Their zone caught us off guard but we were able to correct that in the second half."
"We've made some improvements," Radebaugh continued. "We've made some strides with our rotations. I'm proud of our defensive effort. We still have a lot of room to go – a ton of room to go – but we have made some progress."
Keeling's latest outburst was his second straight 20-point effort, third in four games and fifth overall. He is averaging 26 points per game over his last four outings. Longwood was paced by 20 points from Isaiah Walton and 15 from Khris Lane. Darrion Allen added 13 and seven rebounds.
Armel Potter's three-pointer capped another strong start for CSU, providing a 24-10 edge at the 8:35 mark of the opening half. Longwood closed the gap to 34-29 at halftime, though, and made the score 38-34 two minutes into the second stanza on Allen's driving score. CSU asserted control from there thanks to a 13-2 run.
Mitchell and Keeling alternated baskets to quickly send the advantage to 11 on the latter's trey from the wing. Howard muscled in a layup and Keeling put home an acrobatic tip-in to cap the key sequence and give the Bucs a 51-36 lead with 13:27 left. Longwood would get no closer than ten the rest of the way.
The Bucs put the ball in the hands of Keeling down the stretch, with the explosive rookie notching ten straight CSU points during one juncture. He finished that flurry with a pull-up jumper to stake the Bucs to a 70-52 cushion with 4:13 remaining.
Howard got CSU going early with two buckets in the game's first 50 seconds. Jamal Thomas added a drive to the hoop to quickly provide a 6-0 lead. The Bucs' advantage would eventually reach 14 before the Lancers rallied in an effort to snap their four-game losing streak. Walton sparked Longwood with a run of nine points late in the half. He knocked down a trey from in front of the CSU bench to cut the deficit to 32-29 at the 1:03 mark. Keeling answered with a jumper to account for the Bucs' five-point halftime advantage.
"The good things I take away from tonight is defensively, we were in the right position, how hard Javis played, Christian was able to finish late for us – the first thing we've done that exclusively where we gave him the ball five or six possessions in a row to come up with a play for us," Radebaugh said. "Winning creates more confidence and we're gaining that."
CSU heads back on the road Thursday at High Point, with tipoff slated for 7 p.m.