CHARLESTON, S.C. – Charleston Southern has come a long way over the last month. The Bucs put that on display in earnest Sunday at the Buc Dome, exchanging punches with Big South Conference co-leader UNC Asheville throughout before falling, 85-80, in overtime.
Ahmad Thomas's layup with 1:34 left in the extra session gave Asheville (19-10, 12-4 Big South) the lead for good in a nip and tuck affair that featured ten ties and 14 lead changes. Neither team led by more than five points over the final 17:18 of regulation and overtime. CSU (12-15, 7-9 Big South) trailed by five late in OT before Cortez Mitchell hit a three-pointer and Asheville missed a free throw to give CSU a chance to tie. Mitchell misfired on a triple, though, and Raekwon Miller grabbed the rebound and buried two free throws to help the Bulldogs escape.
Asheville remains tied with Winthrop atop the league standings with two regular season games remaining. CSU falls into a seventh-place tie with Gardner-Webb, just one game back of a two-way tie for fifth. The regular season champion will host the quarterfinals and semifinals of the Big South Championship, while the top six seeds earn a bye into the quarterfinals.
CSU entered winners of three in a row and five of its last six and played with confidence and moxie. Christian Keeling tallied 18 of his game-high 27 points after halftime while going shot-for-shot with Thomas and MaCio Teague for much of the second stanza. Jordan Jones delivered a huge spark off the bench, hitting for a career-high 16 points on perfect 6-for-6 shooting. Four overtime turnovers proved costly; however, as Asheville prevailed to sweep the season series.
CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh continues to be encouraged by the progress his team has made since a 2-7 start to league play. The Bucs' lineup down the stretch Sunday featured two freshmen and two sophomores.
"It was a great college basketball game," Radebaugh said. "I thought Asheville played very well and I thought we were really gutsy and tough and made a lot of plays. We played with tremendous effort and I'm really proud of how our guys battled. We put a ton of effort into winning that game and just came up a bucket short."
How It Happened
- Both sides had opportunities to win in regulation after Jordan Jones dropped in a left-handed layup to force a 74-74 tie at the 1:41 mark. CSU had possession last after Keeling came up with a sensational block of Teague on a drive. Keeling drew the defense and found Mitchell for a clean look at a three from the left wing but the shot was off the mark and Jones had a potential tip-in go off his hands at the buzzer.
- After committing just four turnovers in regulation, CSU was forced into four in overtime. A Keeling runner and Mitchell's late three were the only field goals the Bucs could muster. Asheville was 3-for-6 in the extra session, including a key reverse layup by Kevin Vannatta that accounted for an 82-77 advantage with 36 seconds remaining.
- Asheville led 38-33 at halftime and nudged its lead to seven three times early in the second half. The action was back-and-forth from there, with both sides delivering clutch plays.
- CSU took its first lead of the second half, 48-47, on Keeling's three at the 13:38 mark. The Bucs took their biggest edge of the stanza, 59-55, on another Keeling trey 3:07 later.
- CSU took its final edge, 70-69, on Jones's two-handed flush with 3:18 left. Jonathan Baehre, who had sat for much of the half with four fouls, then tallied Asheville's final five points to help the Bulldogs force overtime.
- In the first half, CSU opened up a 17-11 lead before Asheville countered with an 11-0 run to take control. Teague knocked down his first four shots, including two threes, en route to 15 first-half points.
Inside the Numbers
- Teague, last year's Big South Freshman of the Year, paced Asheville with 24 points despite being held scoreless over the final 12:25 of regulation and overtime.
- Thomas, last year's Big South Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team all-conference pick, finished with 23 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Both Teague and Thomas logged all 45 minutes.
- Keeling's 27-point outing marked his tenth 20-point game of the season and 20th career.
- Jones is now 10-for-10 from the field over his last two games. He had 16 points, five rebounds and two blocked shots in perhaps the Bucs' best bench effort of the campaign.
CSU welcomes Campbell to the Buc Dome Thursday for its regular season home finale. Senior Day festivities will be held prior to the 7:30 p.m. start.