Playing for the third time in five days, the shorthanded Charleston Southern Buccaneers struggled to find their shooting touch in a 61-54 loss at Rider University in ESPN's BracketBusters on Saturday afternoon.
The Bucs did everything well and gave, in the eyes of CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh, one of their best efforts of the season, but could not get shots to fall.
CSU, which entered the game as the nation's No. 2 three-point shooting team with 9.3 made three-point field goals per game, finished just 4-of-19 (21 percent) from behind the arch.
"Our fourth game in seven days, the was an absolute championship effort by our team," Radebaigh said following the game. "I have not been prouder of our guys at any time this year than I was this (today). To win at Asheville, beat Presbyterian by 20, VMI 20-plus, and to get on a plane the next day and come up here and perform like that. That is what we want our program to be about. That honored our University, honored God, and honored our players. That was a tremendous effort."
Charleston Southern falls to 16-10 overall, while Rider improves to 16-13. The Bucs played without point guard Saah Nimley who missed his second game this week.
The Bucs had opportunities in the final minute to cut the Broncs' lead to a point a couple of times, but open looks for Mathiang Muo and Jeremy Sexton missed the mark as Rider – which had not played since Sunday – held on for the win.
With Saturday's game behind them, the Bucs now turn their attention back to Big South play. CSU travels to Gardner-Webb on Wednesday night for a showdown between two of the top teams in the South Division of the Big South.
With two wins this week, the Bucs would clinch at least a share of the Big South Championship.
"We're approaching things the same way we have all season, one game at a time," Radebaugh said. "We have to win both, but that starts with Gardner-Webb."
Charleston Southern did everything it could to give itself a perfect record in its third and final year of BracketBusters. The Bucs pounded the glass and held an 18-6 edge in offensive boards. CSU also forced 18 turnovers.
Sophomore guard Arlon Harper led the Bucs with 13 points, but was 3-of-12 from the floor. Forward Cedrick Bowen added 10 points and seven rebounds.
Muo, after a 7-of-8 night on Thursday against Presbyterian, was just 2-of-14 from the floor with nine points and nine rebounds. Forward Paul Gombwer added 10 rebounds to go with seven points.
John Thompson led Rider with 15 points, while junior Fortunat added 12 points and eight rebounds.
Rider was only 7-of-28 from three-point range, but survived despite take 19 fewer shots than the Bucs.
CSU was cold early as the Bucs fell behind by five at 18-13 just past the midway points of the first half, but the Bucs rallied getting a boost from the bench late in the first half.
CSU got seven first-half points from Paul Gombwer and four points from Matt Kennedy as the Bucs put together a 12-2 run to take a 25-20 lead.
CSU built its lead out to 36-28 early in the second half as Harper made all five of his free throws on consecutive possessions. Rider answered with an 11-0 run to take a 39-38 lead on a three by Tommy Pereira form the left wing.
CSU push back in front with a 6-0 run to take a 44-39 lead. Harper found Bowen aherad in transition for a dunk and the Bucs, who were relentless on the boards, had three offensive rebounds on one possession, scoring on a Bowen put-back to take a five-point lead, but the Broncs roared back on the cool-shooting Bucs.
Rider's John Thompson knocked down a fadeaway jumper with 90 seconds left with Bucs hanging on him to give the Broncs a four-point lead, 54-50. Three-point attempts from Muo and Sexton on the ensuing possessions would come up short, but Rider couldn't put the game away at the line.
After the Broncs missed 2-of-4 at the free throw line, Harper drilled a three from the left wing to cut the lead to 56-53.
As was the story for much of the day, CSU could not connect on anything in the final 45 seconds, including good looks for Muo and Sexton, as Rider held on with free throws for the win.
The Bucs return to action on Wednesday night against Gardner-Webb. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. in Boiling Springs, N.C. The Bulldogs beat the Bucs in overtime in January, 74-73, ending CSU's eight-game win streak, the third longest in school history.