Charleston Southern saw a late lead slip away and couldn't recover in overtime as Gardner-Webb rallied for a 67-62 win on Wednesday night at Paul Porter Arena.
Fellow conference leader High Point also lost on Wednesday night to Radford, leaving the Bucs still in control of their own destiny for the regular season league title with a home game on Saturday against Coastal Carolina. Tipoff is at 4:30 p.m. in the Buc Dome.
"We've absolutely got to let this one go," said CSU Head Coach Barclay Radebaugh following the game. "I can think of two or three things we could have done differently but not too many. We were right there up three with 41 seconds to go and they hit a big shot. We were on the road up three with 40 seconds to go against a team that's won eight out of nine – you gotta praise your troops and you've gotta move on. We've got something to play for Saturday."
Gardner-Webb's Kevin Hartley led all scorers with 21 points, while CSU's Paul Gombwer matched career highs with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Saah Nimley added 15 points and five assists for the Bucs in his return to the lineup afer missing two games due to a lower back injury.
CSU (16-11, 11-4 BSC) led for most of the contest, and still enjoyed a 57-54 edge when Saah Nimleyhit a tough step-back jumper with 1:06 remaining in regulation. Tyler Strange had an answer for Gardner Webb (19-11, 10-5 BSC), as the sophomore point guard drilled a three from deep on the left wing to tie the score at 57 apiece with 41 seconds left.
Both sides had a chance to win in the closing seconds, but Nimley misfired on a three for CSU and Tashawn Newsome's triple at the buzzer went begging as well for Gardner-Webb, forcing overtime.
Two Jerome Hill free throws gave the Runnin' Bulldogs the first points of the extra session, and the score stood still at 59-57 until Nimley drove the lane and found Cedric Bowen for a layup to re-tie the game with 1:51 left on the clock.
Gardner-Webb once again responded with a three-ball, as Hartley buried a triple from the right wing to give the Runnin' Bulldogs a 62-59 edge at the 1:23 mark of overtime. The Bucs crept back within 64-62 on a Jeremy Sexton three from the top of the key with 16 seconds left, but Gardner-Webb connected on 3-of-4 at the free-throw line to seal its second overtime win over CSU this season.
The Bucs led 34-30 at halftime and used a 12-5 spurt to build a 48-40 cushion on Gombwer's trey with 12:15 left in the second half. CSU still had a seven-point lead at 50-43 when Arlon Harper drove baseline for a layup, but the Bucs would get only one basket over the final 10:18 of regulation as the Runnin' Bulldogs rallied.
In contrast to its offensive struggles of the second half and overtime, CSU shot better than 53 percent in the opening stanza to build a four-point halftime advantage.
Trailing 12-9, Gombwer keyed a 12-0 run that gave the Bucs their largest lead of the night. The sophomore forward tipped in a Nimley miss to start the surge, and then scored again moments later off a pretty feed from Nimley. Harper hit a jumper, Gombwer scored again down low, and Sheldon Strickland lofted home a runner inside the foul line to cap the spurt and move CSU in front, 21-12.
Gardner-Webb came back with seven straight points to trim its deficit to two, only to see CSU stretch its lead back to seven at 34-27 when Harper connected on a baseline jumper at the 2:04 mark. Max Landis came through with the last basket of the opening twenty minutes for Gardner-Webb, swishing one of his two threes on the evening.
Charleston Southern controlled interior play for much of the game, outscoring Gardner-Webb 24-12 in the paint while also posting a 39-34 edge on the glass. The Runnin' Bulldogs were able to force the Bucs into 17 turnovers, however, and took full advantage en route to tallying a 21-8 margin in points off turnovers.
With a tough loss behind them, CSU turns its sights to Coastal Carolina on Saturday. A win would give the Bucs their first Big South regular season championship since 1986-87, as they enter play tied with High Point atop the league at 11-4. CSU owns the tie-breaker thanks to a 83-75 triumph over the Panthers at the Buc Dome on January 19.