Charleston Southern placed four players in double figures scoring and controlled most of the game, but UNC Asheville rallied from an 11-point deficit behind a brilliant 35-point performance by Andrew Rowsey to post an 80-76 win at the Buc Dome on Saturday night.
CSU (8-9, 2-2 BSC) led 73-62 with 4:33 remaining following a Cedrick Bowen layup, only to see Rowsey take over down the stretch for Asheville (9-9, 3-1 BSC). He scored 11 of his 35 points over the final 4:17 of the contest, keying the Bulldogs' 18-4 game-ending run.
He first connected on a deep three from the right wing, and added a pull-up jumper with the Bucs' Sheldon Strickland hanging all over him to close the deficit to 74-67. Asheville's D.J. Cunningham then scored down low to make it a five-point game, and Rowsey buried another contested three moments later to suddenly make the score 74-72 with 2:22 left.
Following a Saah Nimley jumper, Rowsey found Sam Hughes for a layup on a drive and nailed a running three-pointer from the top of the key to give the Bulldogs a 77-76 advantage with 1:18 remaining. CSU was unable to convert on its two ensuing possessions, as Asheville completed the comeback victory.
Nimley paced CSU with 19 points and eight assists, leading a balanced effort that saw the Bucs' bench outscore the Bulldogs, 45-15. Strickland pumped in 15 first-half points off the bench, Cedrick Bowen scored 13, and Will Saunders recorded his first career-double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. The Bucs played well for much of the night, shooting 47 percent from the floor and out-rebounding a bigger Asheville team, 36-27. In the end, it was Rowsey's hot shooting that provided the difference.
"You've got to credit Andrew Rowsey," CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh said. "He played well. He hit some 25-footers, in transition. It was just a strange game overall. You're up eight, with three minutes to go, and basically he just took over."
"We did do a lot of good stuff tonight," Radebaugh continued. "I'm sure when we look at the film, we will see we did a lot of good stuff. That was just an exceptional, exceptional display of shooting by Rowsey that you don't see very often in college basketball."
CSU led 46-43 at halftime after shooting 55 percent from the field in the first half, and quickly built its lead out of intermission. Alhaji Fullah hit a jump hook off the glass to start the Bucs' second half scoring, but it was Nimley that set the tone with his ability to continually get in the lane off the dribble.
Nimley hit a three and then drove inside to find Bowen for a layup. He again got by his defender to draw a foul and convert a free throw several possessions later, pushing the Bucs' advantage to 56-47 at the 14:57 mark.
CSU stretched its lead out to eleven three times before Asheville staged its dramatic late surge. Malcolm Bernard tipped in a miss for a 60-49 lead, and Fullah threw down a dunk off more Nimley penetration to advance the cushion to 66-55. Saunders accounted for a 71-60 lead with 5:37 left, drilling a triple off a pick and pop with Nimley.
Harper put the Buccaneers ahead out of the gates with a driving layup on CSU's opening possession, setting the tone for a fast-paced first half. In a period that had nine ties and eight lead changes, the Bulldogs held the advantage in the early going behind 17 first-half points by Rowsey.
A jumper by Jaron Lane pushed the Asheville advantage to 12-7 at the 14:36 mark, but Bernard drove in for a layup and Saunders was fouled on a three-point try, making all three attempts to knot the game back up at 12-12 over the next CSU possessions.
DJ Cunningham and Rowsey again pushed the Bulldogs lead back out to five points at 17-12 following his first three-pointer of the half at the 12:44 mark. Nimley cut into the Asheville advantage with an athletic layup on the opposite end and jumpers by Strickland and Asheville's Corey Littlejohn gave way to a Nimley three-pointer from the right wing as CSU tied the game up for the third time at 19-19.
Neither team was able to gain more than a three-point advantage for a while as the teams battled through six more ties in the half, and seemingly each Charleston Southern surge was answered by the Bulldogs from the free-throw line. CSU held the 20-8 advantage on points in the paint, but Asheville shot 17-for-20 from the charity stripe as the teams sat tied at 33-33 with 3:28 left in the half.
Nimley snapped the tie with a layup following a tremendous block by Fullah. Fullah threw the layup attempt by Lane back to half court, where Nimley tracked it down and raced past the Bulldogs' defense for the go-ahead basket. Strickland followed with his first of three consecutive three-pointers, this one from the left corner to put CSU up 38-33 at the 2:48 mark.
Strickland's trio of triples gave CSU its largest lead of the half at 44-37 with 1:07 to play and Fullah capped off the Buccaneers' offensive spark in the period with a dunk on a backdoor pass from Bernard as Charleston Southern went into the half sporting the 46-43 lead.
The Bucs return to action Wednesday at Gardner-Webb. Tipoff in Boiling Springs, N.C. is set for 7 p.m.
"We've got to regroup," Radebaugh said. "We can't let this one get us down. It is a long season. We've got 12 conference games left. We will obviously regroup, fight hard and play well on Wednesday."