Charleston Southern outscored East Tennessee State 34-6 over the final 14 minutes of the first half en route to a 72-51 win on Tuesday night at Brooke Gymnasium on the ETSU campus.
The Bucs move to 4-5 with the win, while ETSU falls to 2-7.
Sophomore guard Arlon Harper had 25 points and senior guard Jeremy Sexton added 15 to lead CSU in the win. Both guards carried the Bucs during the decisive first-half run, in which CSU looked as sharp as it has all year offensively.
"We have really turned the corner offensively. It was a good offensive effort against a good defensive team," CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh said after the game. "They're tough. They're big, strong, tall and athletic, and really tough to score against. We moved the ball well and we made shots."
After falling behind 7-0, CSU switched to a zone defense and controlled, essentially, the rest of the game. The Bucs' scored 34 of the game's next 40 points and jetted to a 37-18 lead at the half, behind 50 percent (13-of-26) from the floor.
ETSU cut the lead to eight near the midway point of the second half, but bench play and a big three from Sexton stopped the ETSU rally.
"Our guys did a good job in spurts of executing offensively," Radebaugh added. "We put together a really good stretch in the first half and kind of weathered the storm in the second half."
Harper seemed to control both ends of the floor in the first half as CSU rallied from an early nine-point deficit to lead by 19 at the half. He made 3-of-4 three-point attempts and had three steals in the opening half, including a breakaway dunk and a three-point play off of a pass he deflected to a teammate.
"Arlon can score, but he's so much more than an offensive player," Radebaugh said of his sophomore guard. "He's becoming a leader with his play and he's leading this team. He has been outstanding this season and we're starting to see what he and this team are capable of."
The game will go down as a career highlight for Sexton. Two weeks after joining CSU's 1,000-point club, Sexton had 15 points and knocked down five threes in his homecoming to his home state. He played high school basketball down the road in the Chattanooga area.
"This whole thing was designed for Jeremy," Radebaugh said of his senior guard. "We came here to play so he could play in front of his family and honor his family. Jeremy has just been a beautiful person for our program. I've seen him grow as a player immensely, but most importantly, his growth as a person has been off the charts."
Sexton enjoyed the home-state win, but is focused on his team's improvement during a three-game and now three-week winning streak.
"It felt really good," Sexton said. "I have a lot of family here, and it felt good to come back to where I came from and play in front of my hometown. I've just wanted to be more aggressive. My roll on this team is to provide points. I have to come out and provide energy."
CSU also controlled the boards, something they didn't do in the first meeting. The Bucs held a 42-28 rebounding edge, thanks in large part to gritty efforts from Cedrick Bowen and Paul Gombwer. Bowen had 14 points and seven boards off the bench, while Gombwer added eight rebounds.
The opening five minutes did not go as planned for the Bucs.
ETSU raced to a 7-0 lead in the opening 90 seconds knocking down its first three shots of the game.
Arlon Harper gave the Bucs their first basket of the game at 17:30 burying a long three-pointer from the left wing.
ETSU stayed hot and built its lead to 12-3 in the opening eight minutes as CSU committed seven early turnovers.
Senior Jeremy Sexton answered back with a pair of three-pointers to cut the lead to 12-11.
Charleston Southern would start to get the tempo up and would take its first lead over the next four minutes. Harper buried another three on a kick out from Saah Nimley to knot the game at 16-16.
CSU pushed the ball, forcing ETSU turnovers, to score on four straight possessions. Harper's lay-in at the 8:47 mark gave CSU its first lead at 18-16, and Allie Fullah scored on a put back of his own miss to push the lead to 20-16.
ETSU continued to have no answer for Harper. The sophomore knocked down a three on an inbounds play to extend the Bucs' lead and followed with a tipped pass to force a turnover and finished an acrobatic layup in transition to give the Bucs their first double-digit lead at 28-16.
Harper would add two late free throws as the Bucs outscored ETSU 35-7 over the final 14:27 of the half.
East Tennessee State answered back in the opening minutes of the second half.
A pair of three pointers by Lester Wilson fueled the run as the Bucs cut the CSU lead to 45-34 with 13:35 to play, but a four-point play by Nimley pushed the lead back to 15 moments later at 49-34.
ETSU would cut the Bucs' lead to 49-41 on a bucket by Wilson, but CSU followed with a 14-2 run to put the game out of reach. Junior guard Sheldon Strickland buried a three from the left wing and followed a few possessions later with a tough offensive board and a runner from the free-throw line for five quick points to lift the Bucs.
Sexton added his third three of the night for his second-straight game with double figures as CSU built the lead all the way to 22 at 67-45.
The Bucs face one of their biggest challenges of the season on Thursday. CSU will travel to Kansas on Wednesday to face Wichita State on Thursday night. The Shockers are 9-1 to open the season.
"We have to prepare for a different team from ETSU," Radebaugh said of his Thursday night opponent. "[Wichita State] is really big. They're really strong, and they play a lot of man-to-man. They're a top-25 team and we're looking forward to the challenge."
In the end though, the shot-making was the difference.
Harper finished 9-of-14 from the floor for his game-high 25. He was 4-of-5 from three-point range and is 9-of-10 the last two games. He also had six rebounds and four steals.
Sexton was 6-of-11 from the floor and knocked down three triples.
Freshman Lester Wilson led ETSU with 16 points and six rebounds.
Tipoff is at 8 p.m.in Wichita, Kan.