Charleston Southern's Arlon Harper and Jeremy Sexton scored 15 points apiece and Saah Nimley had a game-high 11 rebounds as Charleston Southern came back from a second half double-digit deficit in beating the Big South's two-time defending champion UNC Asheville on Wednesday evening inside the Buc Dome, 74-68.
Charleston Southern improves to 9-6, 4-0 in Big South play with the victory, while UNC Asheville falls to 8-10, 2-2 in conference action. The 4-0 Big South start continues CSU's best conference start under head coach Barclay Radebaugh.
The Bucs rallied from 12 down to seize control late in front of raucous and partisan CSU crowd.
"The way it unfolded, just makes it special," Radebaugh told the media after the game. "To be down significantly, and to come back like that, deep in foul trouble, with a number guys sitting on the bench, is just an impressive performance by the entire team."
Charleston Southern was able to get deeper into its bench and reaped the rewards. The Bucs looked like the fresher team in the final 10 minutes, and put together a decisive 11-3 run to remain perfect in the Big South and improve to 8-1 since December began.
"It was amazing how the game unfolded," Radebaugh added. "We played some guys we haven't played much in a critical position. Matt Kennedy and Sheldon Strickland (played) more, because our main six or seven were tired. They got in our 2-2-1 press and they deflected balls. We had such an odd lineup in there and you've never seen that lineup in a critical game this year on the floor. And they took a deficit and got it back even. Our starters and some guys sat out three or four clock minutes, which is 10 or 11, 12 real minutes."
The Bucs host High Point on Saturday night, already with a two-game lead in the South Division following Wednesday night's action.
"We got to enjoy Winthrop last week for 15 minutes and we're going to enjoy this one for 30. The way our league is set up, we go back to work tomorrow. We have a chance to take a commanding league in the southern division of the Big South and that's our goal. So we are going to enjoy this tonight, and come back to work tomorrow."
Five consecutive points by UNCA's Trent Meyer cut the CSU lead down to two points with 29 ticks remaining in the game, but Harper connected on a pair of free throws and Mathiang Muo pulled down a rebound on a Meyer miss, finding Sexton for the breakaway dunk to put an exclamation point on the Buccaneers victory.
Sexton played all 20 minutes in the second half, scoring 10 of his 15 points in the period and Muo added eight of his 11 points to spark the comeback as the Buccaneers shot 50.0 percent (16-for-32) over the period after shooting 33.3 percent (11-for-33) in the first half.
Harper added 15 points, making five of six free throw attempts, while Nimley led all players with 11 rebounds and added eight points and six assists to lead head coach Barclay Radebaugh's offense on the evening.
Meyer led UNC Asheville with 22 points, hitting five three-pointers in the game and scored Asheville's final six points in the comeback attempt. Jeremy Atkinson (14) and Will Weeks (11) joined Meyer in double-digits as the Bulldogs fell for the second time in their past three Big South contests.
UNC Asheville led by as many as 12 in the second half following a three-pointer by Meyer with 17:09 to play in the game, but Charleston Southern steadily chipped away at the lead, bringing the game to within one possession at 55-53 with an 8-1 run capped by a Sexton steal and layup.
Matt Kennedy followed with two of his four points in the game, making a pair of free throws to even the score at 55-all and Muo gave the Bucs the lead for good with 7:09 to play with a layup to push CSU ahead 61-60.
Charleston Southern jumped ahead in the first two minutes, forcing an early UNC Asheville timeout as Sexton connected on a three-pointer from the left corner putting CSU up 7-2 with 17:51 to play in the game. Harper and Nimley both made baskets in the early going to offset the opening basket by Jon Nwwannunu to stake the Bucs to the early lead.
A jumper by Harper from the short right corner gave CSU their largest lead of the first half at the 17:26 mark, but Weeks followed with back-to-back baskets and Keith Hornsby followed with a layup to cut the Bucs lead to one at 9-8.
The teams traded scores with CSU holding the narrow one possession lead at 17-15 following a Harper layup, but the Bulldogs followed the shot with a 13 -1 run sparked by seven points by Trent Meyer as the UNCA junior connected on a three-pointer and added a pair of jumpers to push the Bulldogs ahead. The run was aided by six CSU turnovers during the nearly five minute stretch as UNCA held CSU scoreless from the floor with the exception of a made free throw by Sheldon Strickland in building the 30-18 lead with 8:50 to play in the first half.
Jeremy Sexton snapped the skid for the Buccaneers with a layup off the pass from Nimley on the fast-break with 7:04 to play, and Nimley made a pair of free throws on the next CSU possession to bring the game back to within single digits at 30-22.
Sexton's layup began a run for the Buccaneers, bringing the game back to within one possession as Nimley and Sexton connected from the free throw line before Malcolm Bernard received a pass from Sexton on the fast break and threw down a breakaway dunk to put the score within five. Bernard followed on the next possession with a pass to a wide-open Paul Gombwer underneath the basket to put the score at 30-27 with 5:05 to play in the half in favor of the guests.
Will Weeks ended the CSU scoreless run with a layup on the following UNCA possession, but Harper followed with a driving layup to keep the score within three with 2:42 on the clock.
Meyer connected on a deep three-pointer from the left wing off the assist from Nwwannunu, beginning a 7-0 run to extend the lead back to double-digits with 39 seconds to play. Jeremy Atkinson and Nwwannunu both made jumpers in the paint to push the score to 39-29 in UNCA's favor.
Allie Fullah made a free throw with 26 ticks remaining for the final score in the half as UNCA's attempt at the buzzer fell short to send the teams into the halftime break with the Bulldogs leading 39-30.
Asheville pushed the lead back to double-digits following back-to-back three-pointers by Atkinson and Meyer in the first three minutes of the half to extend the lead to 47-35 with 17:09 left in the contest.
Charleston Southern slowly chipped away at the lead as Sexton drove in for a pair of layups to put the score within six at 51-45 in favor of the bulldogs with 14:10 to play.
Following a three-pointer by Meyer from the top of the key, Charleston Southern went on an 8-1 run to bring the game back to within two points at 55-53 with 11:38 to play following a steal and layup by Sexton. Cedrick Bowen added four points during the run with a pair of made free throws and a jumper from the short right corner to make it a one possession game.
Matt Kennedy tied the score up for the first time since the 12:15 mark in the first half, making a pair of free throws to complete the comeback and evening the score at 55-all with 11:04 to play in the game.
Following an Atkinson layup and a jumper in the paint by Sexton, Bernard gave the Buccaneers their first lead since the 12:56 mark in the first half, driving into the lane for a layup to put the score at 59-57 with 9:21on the clock.
Weeks put Asheville back on top at 60-59 following the old-fashioned three-point play, but Mathiang Muo answered with a layup on the other end and following four consecutive points by Harper, Muo stepped behind the arc and connected on a three-pointer from the top of the key with the shot clock expiring to push the Buccaneers ahead six at 68-62 with 4:12 remaining in the game.
Nimley followed a Meyer free throw with a jumper to push the CSU lead to seven at 70-63 as Charleston Southern started to slow down the offense in an attempt to run out the clock.
Hornsby recorded a steal with 1:21 left in the game and after his layup was blocked by Harper, Meyer recorded the offensive rebound and connected on his fifth three-pointer of the evening, this one from the left corner with 1:14 to play to cut the Bucs lead down to four with at 70-66.
Meyer continued to have the hot hand for the Bulldogs in the closing minutes, following a CSU miss with a jumper in the short left corner to put the score at 70-68, hitting the shot as he fell backwards to pull the Bulldogs within one possession with 28.7 seconds left in the game.
Harper made both free throws on the following possession as UNCA was forced to foul with the shot clock turned off. Meyer attempted a three-pointer on the next Asheville possession, but his shot clanged off the rim and went to Muo who passed ahead to Sexton for the game-clinching dunk on the final play as CSU closed out the 74-68 win in front of the home fans inside the Buc Dome.
Charleston Southern improves to 9-0 on the season with the Buccaneers out-shoot their opponents as CSU held UNC Asheville to 34.5 percent from the floor in the second half and 39.4 percent in the game in the loss.
Keith Hornsby led the Bulldogs with nine rebounds as CSU finished with the 45-39 rebounding advantage. Hornsby also extended his free throw shooting streak during the game, finishing the contest having made his past 35 attempts from the free throw line, the longest streak in the Big South this season.
Charleston Southern remains at home this weekend as the Buccaneers host High Point University in Big South Conference action on Saturday. Tipoff between the Bucs and the Panthers inside the Buc Dome is set for 5:30 p.m. UNC Asheville returns home to Kimmel Arena to host Longwood on Saturday, with tipoff at 4:30 p.m.