Charleston Southern's Arlon Harper hit a foul line jumper with 2.7 seconds remaining to lift the Bucs over Gardner-Webb, 78-76, in a wild game at Paul Porter Arena on Wednesday night.
Harper took an inbounds pass with 13.6 seconds left and went the length of the floor before pulling up over Gardner-Webb's Josh Castellanos to sink the game-winning shot. The shot snapped a 10-0 Gardner-Webb run in a thrilling and emotional back-and-forth affair that saw the Bucs register their first ever win in Boiling Springs. Tyler Strange caught a length of the floor pass for Gardner-Webb following a timeout, but missed a baseline jumper at the buzzer to allow the Bucs to prevail.
"We did a lot of things I wish we could change but we played gutsy," CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh said. "It's a hard place to win and they're a good team and had won two in a row. We played tough. We didn't play great but we played tough. We have a lot of stuff to improve on but it's always better to do it after a win. It was a good play by Arlon and a good call. Arlon delivered."
"We've been in a lot of close games and we've had some things not bounce our way," Radebaugh continued. "Hopefully this is something we can build on and start to put a good streak together."
Saah Nimley scored 20 points to pace six players in double figures for CSU (9-9, 3-2 BSC). Harper and Cedrick Bowen added 12 apiece, while Will Saunders went a perfect 4-of-4 from the field en route to 11 points. Matt Kennedy and Alhaji Fullah each chipped in ten. Gardner-Webb (9-11, 2-3 BSC) was led by 19 points from Jerome Hill, while Naji Hibbert added 17 on 7-of-11 shooting.
CSU raced out to a 35-17 first half lead behind blistering first half shooting, as the Bucs connected on 13 of their first 21 shots, including 5-of-6 from three-point range. GWU responded with a 14-2 run to close out the period, though, drawing within 43-39 at intermission as Hibbert knocked down two late threes.
GWU kept momentum on its side early in the second half, taking a 56-51 lead at the 14:24 mark thanks to a 9-0 run. Donta Harper highlighted the surge for the Runnin' Bulldogs with a dunk over Fullah that tied the game at 51 apiece. Hibbert and Onzie Branch had back-to-back layups, and Hibbert added a free throw to cap the spurt.
CSU still trailed by five three minutes later, but displayed its mettle with a 13-0 run to move in front, 69-61, at the 7:08 mark. Saunders began the critical stretch with a tough step back three from the top of the key, quieting the partisan crowd and spurring on the Bucs. Kennedy converted a layup off a feed from Saunders to tie the game following a Fullah blocked shot, and Nimley hit two free throws to give CSU the lead for good.
Malcolm Bernard gave the Bucs a lift off the bench for a second consecutive game and highlighted the back end of the run. He found Kennedy for a corner triple with a terrific extra pass, and grabbed an offensive rebound which led to a Bowen layup and a 68-61 Bucs' lead.
CSU eventually built its cushion to 76-66 on two Fullah free throws with 4:57 remaining, before GWU rallied again. Strange began the juncture with a three, and Tyrell Nelson continued it with a baseline jumper. Nelson had a layup attempt pinned on the glass by Bernard to keep the Bucs' lead at five, but converted a three-point play moments later to close the gap to two. Strange would tie the contest at 76-76 with two clutch free throws with 13 seconds left, before Harper swished through the game-winner.
"Down the stretch, big time players make big time plays," Harper said. "Coach called my number and I was able to come through. Gardner-Webb has become our rival so any win on the road is big but especially this one."
Harper scored CSU's first five points of the game with two free throws and a deep three. Fullah threw down a two-hand dunk off an alley-oop pass from Nimley for a 7-6 lead, and the Bucs would build their lead to 20-13 behind another first half jolt from Bowen.
Bowen hit his first four shots of the game, establishing position in the post consistently during the opening stages of the stanza. He thundered home a two-hand dunk off a drive down the lane on one possession, and rolled in a layup while being fouled on another trip down the floor.
Nimley took over at about the midway point of the first half for the Bucs, scoring 11 points during a 15-2 run that opened up a 35-17 margin. Nimley scored the first six points of the run consecutively, again exploiting the opposing defense off the dribble. The Bucs' junior point guard finished off his flurry from the perimeter, burying a left wing three to put CSU ahead by 18 at the 6:44 mark before GWU began its comeback.
CSU returns home Saturday to host Longwood. Tipoff at the Buc Dome is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.
"We'll take it one at a time," Radebaugh said. "Longwood is a very challenging team. They've got some very good guards and are extremely well-coached so it will be a challenge. It looks like every game in the Big South this year is going to be a close one. We'll enjoy this one and get back after it."