Senior Mathiang Muo scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead Charleston Southern to a 54-47 victory over Winthrop Thursday in the quarterfinal round of the VisitMyrtleBeach.com Big South Conference men's basketball championship at The HTC Center.
With the win, Charleston Southern advances to take on the winner of this afternoon's game between No. 2 North seed VMI and No. 6 North seed Longwood. The semifinal game is set for Saturday, with tipoff scheduled for noon, with the game to be broadcast on ESPN3.
The game resembled very few Charleston Southern games this season – and its first win – as Winthrop slowed the game down and made the high-octane Bucs play in the half court. The Bucs answered with maybe their best defensive performance of the season.
"That was a tremendous effort by our guys," CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh said. "This might be the best we've defended this year. That's kind of different for us to win the game defensively. That's where we won the game, along with on the boards. In the tournament you win a game like that, where you don't shoot the ball very well."
CSU limited Winthrop to 32 percent from the floor and just 4-of-28 from three-point range. The Bucs held Winthrop to just seven points and one field goal over the final 11:10 of the game to seal their first win over the Eagles in the Big South Tournament.
CSU won its first game this season when scoring less than 70 points and won a rugged game that was tight down the stretch.
"We won a close game," Radebaugh added. "We executed late and our veterans came through. That's something we can carry into the rest of the tournament. I'm really excited about the way we won this game, because that was different for us."
Muo came through in the game's key moment. With the shot clock running down, the senior buried a step-back three to double the Buc lead to six with 2:35 to play and CSU surrendered only a free throw the rest of the way.
All 15 of Muo's points came from behind the 3-point arc, where he hit 5-of-11 attempts, none bigger than a step-back trey from the right wing that pushed the edge to six (52-46) with 2:35 remaining in the game.
Charleston Southern (18-11) knocked down 19-of-21 (.905) free throws and 8-of-9 in the final stanza. Jeremy Sexton accounted for the only miss from the stripe in the final half, but the rebound went out of bounds off a Winthrop player and Muo's shot followed for the last of CSU's second-opportunity points.
Reggie King and Jeremy Sexton swapped the opening blows in the contest with King connecting on a short jumper in the paint, while Sexton drove into the lane for a one-handed layup with 18:23 to play in the first half.
Gideon Gamble connected on a trey from the left corner and following a CSU miss on the other end, Gamble found a wide-open Steve Johnson underneath the basket for the one-handed jam to pull the Eagles ahead 7-2 with 16:47 on the clock.
Muo ended a CSU scoring drought with a three-pointer from the left wing, but Johnson answered on the other end with a layup and Joab Jerome turned a CSU miss into a fast break layup as the Eagles momentum forced a Buccaneers timeout with 13:48 remaining in the first half with Winthrop holding the 11-5 lead.
Muo continued to have the hot hand from the floor early in the first half, hitting a second three-pointer from the left wing, sparking a 9-0 run from behind the arc for the Bucs with Sheldon Strickland turning an Arlon Harper steal into a trey, before Muo connected on his third three in the first 20 minutes, this one from the right wing with 10:28 remaining to give the Buccaneers their first lead of the game at 14-11.
Winthrop snapped the CSU run on the following possession as Larry Brown turned a Jerome miss into a layup with the offensive rebound, while Jerome split the defense and was fouled on the following possession before making the layup and his free throw attempt put Winthrop ahead 16-14 with 9:13 remaining in the half.
Cedrick Bowen put the Bucs back in the lead for the remainder of the first half, connecting on a tough fade-away jumper to knot the game up at 16-all and Saah Nimley found Bowen all alone under the basket on the following possession for the two-hand jam to put the Bucs ahead 18-16.
Following a pair of Nimley free throws, Bowen knocked down another tough turnaround jumper from the right corner to put the Bucs ahead 22-16 with 5:58 to play.
Gamble stopped the Winthrop scoreless drought with layup off the assist from Jerome, but Sexton answered on the other end, out-hustling the WU defense for the offensive rebound and was fouled on the play, making both ensuing free throw attempts to push the Bucs lead back to six.
The Buccaneers were held scoreless from the floor over the final six minutes of the half following Bowen's jumper, but the Charleston Southern was able to extend their lead to nine points before the break, taking advantage of near perfect shooting from the free throw line as CSU hit 11-of-12 attempts in the first half.
Harper went 5-of-6 from the line during the run, including the final points of the half with 1:17 to play, connecting on two shots from the charity stripe to stake CSU to a 31-22 halftime lead.
Andre Smith opened the scoring in the second half, connecting on a three-pointer from the top of the key on Winthrop's opening possession, but Muo answered two possessions later with a trey
Smith responded with a three from the right corner, but Harper scored on a layup on the next possession, setting up a fast-paced second half.
Four consecutive CSU turnovers stalled the Buccaneers offense and the Eagles took advantage, going on a 5-0 run to bring the game back to within two points following a fast break layup by Jerome with 15:40 remaining with the score at 36-34 in favor of CSU.
Nimley ended the CSU struggles with his first basket from the floor in the contest, connecting on a three from the left wing to extend the CSU lead back to five and Bowen followed with an offensive rebound and put-back on the following possession to push the Bucs back ahead 41-34.
A three-pointer by Gamble from the left wing and three free throws by Farmer pulled Winthrop Back within one with 11:27 to play.
Free throws pushed the Buccaneers lead back to seven as Malcolm Bernard, Harper and Nimley connected on two shots apiece from the charity stripe and Harper and Smith traded layups as Charleston Southern went up 49-42 with 7:26 remaining in the contest.
The Buccaneers defense held the Winthrop offense scoreless from the floor over the final nine minutes of the contest, allowing only six made free throws as Jerome and Gamble connected on four of them to help the Eagles narrow the margin back to within one possession, but as he has done all season, Muo connected on a three-pointer from the right wing with 2:35 remaining, putting the Bucs ahead 52-46.
The shot was a dagger for the Buccaneers as Charleston Southern closed out the contest with a pair of free throws by Matt Kennedy with 9.6 seconds remaining as CSU advanced into the quarterfinals with the 54-47 victory.