The Charleston Southern Buccaneers rallied from a 10-point deficit in the final 90 seconds to force overtime, but Gardner-Webb fought off the Bucs in the extra period to hand CSU its first conference loss of the season, 74-73, on Wednesday night at the Buc Dome.
The loss is CSU's first in the Big South as the Bucs fall to 7-1 in league play and lose for the first time in January. CSU is now 12-7 overall. Gardner-Webb improves to 12-10 and 5-3 in the Big South.
Charleston Southern looked nothing like the team that had won 11-of-12 and started league play in perfect fashion through almost the first month of the Big South season for much of regulation.
The Bucs fell behind 64-54 with 2:23 left to play on a free throw by Gardner-Webb Donta Harper, before blitzing the Bulldogs to force overtime.
Even with the rally, CSU never put things together like they had during an eight-game win streak, the third longest in school history.
"Give credit to Gardner-Webb," Bucs' head coach Barclay Radebaugh said after the game. "They played really hard and took the fight to us. We seemed to be on our heels for most of the night."
Despite another career high and double-double for Saah Nimley, who finished with 27 points and 10 rebounds, CSU was never comfortable and struggled with the Bulldogs' physicality throughout.
"We really have to learn from this," Radebaugh added. "We have to put it behind us and we have to move on. Our team didn't play to their capability tonight and Gardner-Webb was just more focused from the tip. We have a very tough stretch coming up (four upcoming games) and we have a lot to work on."
The final two minutes of regulation and all of overtime provided plenty of drama. The Bulldogs put together a 16-5 run to build their lead and led by 10 late before CSU exploded.
Senior Mathiang Muo had seven points in the final minute to give CSU a chance. He capped the rally almost at the buzzer, hitting a fadeaway three-point falling into the CSU student section almost as time expired. The shot tied the game at 67-67 at the end of regulation.
The Bucs grabbed a quick two-point lead in overtime and held onto it until the final 30 seconds. G-W's Tashan Newsome's three-point play over the Bucs' Jeremy Sexton gave the Bulldogs the game's final points with 29.6 seconds left.
"We told our we wanted guys we wanted them to take an eight-footer and that's what Jeremy (Sexton) forced," Radebaugh said of G-W's final bucket. "Give Newsome credit, he made a tough shot."
The Bucs matched their season average with 10 made three-pointers (10-of-25), but struggled to get stops on defense. Gardner-Webb shot 46 percent for the game to offset the Bucs' edge in rebounds and turnovers. CSU had 16 offensive rebounds to the Bulldogs' 10.
Muo finished with 14 for the Bucs, while Sexton added 12 and Arlon Harper 11 to lead CSU's scoring.
Newsome had 22 points on 10-of-18 shooting and added 10 rebounds for his double-double. Jarvis Davis added 14, including a big three-pointer in the second half to slow a CSU spurt, while Tyler Strange added 13. Gardner-Webb blocked seven shots.
Defense reigned for the first two minutes of the contests before the teams scored on back-to-back possessions starting with a layup by Sexton at 18:11 to break the seal on the basket. Tashan Newsome followed on the other end with a jumper as the teams combined to go 0-for-4 from the floor with a three turnovers before the first shot went through the net.
Arlon Harper continued the scoring with a rebound and jumper in the paint off his own miss and Allie Fullah put down a dunk off the lob from Nimley to stake the Bucs to early control on the scoreboard, going up 6-2 with 16:48 to play in the first half.
The Bucs retained the lead for the next four minutes with Paul Gombwer and Mathiang Muo getting involved in the scoring for the Bucs, while Max Landis connected on a three-pointer for the Runnin' Bulldogs and Newsome drove in for another layup as part of his eight first half points.
GWU tied the game up for the second time on a pair of Donta Harper free throws at the 12:05 mark, tying the game up at 13-all and Newsome drove in for a layup four minutes later to knot the game up for the third time in the half, putting the score at 17-all with 8:36 to play.
Tyler Strange followed with a jumper to give the Runnin' Bulldogs their first lead of the ball game, connecting at the7:36 mark as Gardner-Webb went on a 7-0 run in building the five point advantage following a free throw by Harper to give the visitors the 22-17 lead.
Harper brought the game back to within one possession with a three-pointer from the right wing, but Strange answered with a layup and Mike Byron made a pair of free throws, helped by a CSU lane violation on his second attempt to give Gardner-Webb their largest lead of the first half at 26-20 with 3:02 to play.
Sheldon Strickland answered at the other end, driving in and finishing the layup with his left hand and Sexton converted a pair of free throw attempts with 1:12 remaining in the half to cut the lead down to two, sending the teams into the halftime break with GWU leading 26-24.
Arlon Harper tied the game up for the fourth time on the evening with his first jumper of the second half, but Strange answered with a three-pointer from the top of the key as the teams battled through four ties over the first 10 minutes of the second half.
Nimley tied the game up at 32-all with a pair of free throws, while Sexton connected on a three-pointer two minutes later to knot the score up at 37-all with 14:55 to play.
Newsome pushed the lead back in the favor of Gardner-Webb on the next possession with a tip-in on a Hartley missed three-pointer and Landis followed with a jumper off the assist from Strange to push the lead back to four in favor of the Runnin' Bulldogs.
Nimley gave CSU their first lead of the second half, going on a personal 7-0 run to push CSU ahead 44-41 with 10:40 to play in the game. Nimley began the run with a three-pointer, made a layup to give CSU the lead and knocked down a pair of free throws, before Newsome ended the run and tied the game up for the seventh time at 44-all with a three-pointer.
Gombwer answered the three-pointer with a layup, but Hartley connected from behind the arc in the left corner on the following Runnin' Bulldogs possession, sparking a 10-0 GWU run capped by five straight points by Jarvis Davis to give Gardner-Webb the 54-46 lead with 7:34 to play.
The lead reached double-digits five minutes later following a free throw by Donta Harper with 2:23 to play, giving the Runnin' Bulldogs the largest lead by either team in the game at 64-54.
The final two minutes were played behind the perimeter on the CSU side and from the free throw line on Gardner-Webb as Arlon Harper connected on a jumper and Mathiang Muo hit a three-pointer to put the score at 64-59 with 1:02 left in regulation.
Davis connected on a pair of free throws to extend the lead back to seven, but Nimley hit a trey from the right wing and Muo tipped in his own miss to pull CSU to within two at 66-64 with 18 ticks remaining.
Donta Harper had a chance to seal the game at the free throw line, but missed the second of his two free throws to put GWU up 67-64 with 17 seconds left.
Nimley's three-point attempt was knocked out of bounds, with 10 seconds remaining and the inbounds pass went to Muo. The senior forward was trapped behind the arc, but got a shot off with four seconds left and the ball settled in the net with 2.3 seconds remaining to tie the game at 67-all.
Newsome's shot from half-court at the buzzer clanged off the front of the rim, sending the teams into overtime.
Newsome answered the Buccaneers in the overtime period, scoring all seven Gardner-Webb points, tying the game three times with baskets before putting the Runnin' Bulldogs ahead one point with 29 seconds remaining at 74-73.
CSU built three leads in the overtime period with Nimley and Muo both making a pair of free throws, while Sexton drove in for a layup, but Newsome answered every time with his final basket coming as he was knocked to the floor in the short right corner.
The corresponding free throw went into the net to give Gardner-Webb their lone lead of the overtime period and gave Charleston Southern one last shot to pull ahead.
Muo's first shot attempt was rebounded by Gombwer with 11 seconds remaining, setting the stage for one final attempt following a CSU timeout. The final shot again went to Muo, but his attempt fell short as the buzzer sounded ending the game.
Charleston Southern looks ahead to a bye this Saturday as the rest of the Big South Conference will be in action, before the Buccaneers return to the road to The HTC Center to take on Coastal Carolina on Wednesday, February 6th. Gardner-Webb returns home to Boiling Springs, N.C. this Saturday, hosting Longwood.