UNC Wilmington's Addison Spruill banked in a three-pointer with 24 seconds remaining in overtime to provide the difference in an 80-78 win over Charleston Southern on Wednesday night at the Buc Dome.
Spruill's second three of the night – the other came with five seconds remaining in regulation to force the extra session – gave the Seahawks a one-point advantage. Saah Nimley's contested fade-away jumper with six seconds left went begging, and UNCW's Chris Dixon hit one free throw for the final margin as Cedrick Bowen's desperation heave at the buzzer clanged off the bottom of the backboard.
CSU received another excellent effort from senior guard Matt Kennedy, who set a career-high in points for the third straight game, with 19. The Bucs were unable to stop UNCW's Cedrick Williams, however, as the 6'9" forward tallied a career-high 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting. The Seahawks also scored 18 points off of 19 CSU turnovers, and enjoyed a 36-18 advantage in points in the point.
"We had some defensive breakdowns," CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh said. "It is difficult to guard the post when the perimeter players aren't closing out and guards are able to get right into the middle. It's difficult to rebound because then you have to come over and help. Our weak side rebounding was pretty bad. That being said, all those mistakes acknowledged, if they don't hit two long, long, long threes by their four man (Spruill), they don't beat us. We had our chances to win, but they took advantage to walk out of here with a win."
The Bucs led for much of the overtime period, as Kennedy again provided the spark. He first drove for a baseline pull-up off glass to tie the score at 69, and then buried a three from the left win for a 72-69 CSU lead. UNCW answered back, as a Milson Tanner triple pushed the Seahawks back in front, 76-75, with 1:46 remaining. CSU's Will Saunders responded, draining his sixth three of the night to give the Bucs their final advantage of the night and set the stage for the wild finish.
"There were some positives to take out of this game," Radebaugh said. "But when you miss 10 free throws (15-of-25) and turn the ball over 19 times, it is tough to win. That's 19 possessions that we don't have to score. It is early so we can learn from this. We knew our schedule was difficult. We knew it was going to be tough. We are a good basketball team but we need to get better from this game."
CSU led by one at halftime despite shooting only 33 percent in the first half and 3-of-16 from downtown. Saunders found the touch from deep in the second half, sparking CSU to a lead as large as 13 at the 10:35 mark. He hit four treys in all in the second half, and swished home two in a row to give the Bucs a 53-40 cushion.
Williams continued to keep UNCW in the game, though, and Tanner connected on a pair of critical triples to prevent CSU from putting it out of reach.
CSU shot 83 and 67 percent in the first half of wins over Johnson and Delaware, but could sputtered offensively in the opening twenty minutes against UNCW. The Seahawks' 2-3 zone gave the Bucs issues.
"In the first half, we forced a lot of shots," Radebaugh said. "We took some shots that we didn't take against Delaware. We had some step back threes which is absolutely not what we are looking for. We want to create shots for others. We didn't do that tonight. We tried, but we played a little bit too aggressively tonight. We weren't as patient as we needed to be."
UNCW took the opening lead as Dixon drove in for the layup off the assist from Ben Eblen, but CSU's Paul Gombwer responded with a trey from the left corner, setting off a familiar theme throughout the game as the teams battled through six ties and seven lead changes over the first 20 minutes.
The Bucs rattled off a 10-0 run after falling behind 8-3, with Arlon Harper scoring five points during. Saunders and Harper both connected on threes during the run as the Bucs took their largest lead of the half with 14:59 on the clock.
UNCW answered with four points in a row as Williams converted a pair of free throws and Shane Reybold had a jumper to bring the game back to within one at 13-12 as neither team was able to build more than a three-point advantage for the remainder of the half.
UNCW's Dylan Sherwood tied the game up at 27-27 with a little over a minute remaining in the first half, driving in for a layup off a steal by Reybold. Kennedy responded on the other end as the Bucs took the lead into the break on his strong drive to the baseline with 29 ticks left in the first half, getting fouled in the process. The senior guard converted the second of two free throw attempts, giving CSU the 28-27 lead at the break.
CSU now hits the road for a challenging two-game swing to New Mexico and Baylor. The Lobos are ranked in the Top-25 and earned a number three seed in the NCAA Tournament last season, while the Bears are the defending NIT champions.
Tipoff between CSU and New Mexico at The Pit in Albuquerque, is scheduled for Sunday at 6:05 ET.