CONWAY, ARK. – Charleston Southern erased a five-point deficit in the final 44 seconds of regulation, and scored the final eight points of the second overtime to persevere for a 97-90 win over Central Arkansas at the Farris Center on Saturday afternoon.
CSU (4-6) led by as many as twelve in the first half courtesy of a 10-0 run but UCA (2-7) answered back to close within two at halftime and looked to be in position to win when it scored six straight points to take a 78-73 advantage with 1:25 left in regulation. The Bucs scored six of the final seven points to force the extra session, though, as Arlon Harper buried two clutch free throws before the Bears' LaQuentin Miles missed a pair with two seconds remaining.
UCA again appeared poised to win when it took an 86-83 lead in the first overtime on a Miles dunk with 33 seconds left. Saah Nimley came with the answer this time for CSU, drilling a three in transition to force double overtime.
Trailing 90-89 in the second overtime, CSU pulled out the victory with an 8-0 run, holding UCA scoreless for the final 2:34 of the game. Junior forward Cedrick Bowen jumpstarted the decisive stretch, tipping in a Nimley miss before converting two clutch free throws. Bowen had not scored before his run of four straight points. Nimley added a tough baseline runner following a defensive stop, effectively clinching the win and snapping the Bucs' three-game losing streak.
"It was just a really gutsy effort by our guys late and a win we really needed," CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh said afterward. "To be down five there late in regulation and come back the way we did showed a lot of toughness. We didn't play that well for stretches but we found a way and it's something we can build on after Christmas."
CSU senior guard Matt Kennedy paced four CSU players in double figures with a career-high 23 points, while junior Will Saunders netted a career-best 20. The Bucs also received gritty efforts from the junior tandem of Arlon Harper and Saah Nimley. Harper battled through a shoulder injury to finish with 15 points, four assists and three steals. Nimley recorded 19 points and seven assists, and recovered from a tough shooting night to hit several clutch shots down the stretch.
"Saah hit some really tough shots late and then in the two overtimes, and made plays," Radebaugh said. "Arlon's effort with his shoulder was outstanding. At halftime, we figured we wouldn't have him but he gave it a go and made some huge defensive plays and free throws."
UCA's guards gave the CSU defense problems, as Miles finished with a game-high 28 points while DeShone McClure added 20. The Bears' Phabian Glasco narrowly missed out on a double-double with 13 points and nine rebounds, as he paced UCA to a 52-49 advantage on the glass.
Following the Bucs' late rally to force overtime, Kennedy opened the extra session scoring with a pair of free throws. Miles quickly moved UCA back in front, though, shaking off the effects of missing two potential game-winning free throws by sailing through a three from deep on the right wing.
Two Harper free throws gave CSU an 83-82 lead with 1:41 left in the first overtime, but UCA rattled off four straight points to reassume the advantage before Nimley's clutch triple. Nimley nearly won the game for CSU after a Miles miss on the ensuing possession, as the Bucs' point guard's three-quarter court shot hit off the back rim at the buzzer.
UCA's Jalen Jackson started the second overtime scoring with a contested three, but the Bears managed only a Miles free throw after that as the Bucs limited them to 4-of-15 shooting in the overtime periods. Nimley's fourth and final trey of the afternoon tied the game shortly after Jackson's three, and Bowen then keyed the final push for CSU.
Harper was instrumental in the Bucs' ability to build a 65-58 lead at the 10:50 mark of the second half. He swished in a three from the top of the key to give CSU a 63-58 cushion, and then stole a Tirrell Brown pass on the next possession and fed Saunders for a layup to give the Bucs some breathing room for the first time of the second half. UCA responded by running off seven straight markers, however, setting the stage for the wild finish.
UCA made its first four shots of the game, but CSU forced five turnovers en route to establishing a 15-13 lead with 15:28 left in the opening half. Freshman forward Ty'Quan Bitting then scored four quick points to trigger a 10-0 spurt that put the Bucs on top, 25-13. Bitting hit a jump hook in the lane and scored on a layup, before back-to-back threes by Saunders gave the Bucs a 25-13 cushion.
CSU still led by ten after a Kennedy corner three at the 7:31 mark, before Miles sparked a 20-5 UCA charge that ended with the Bears in the lead, 41-36. CSU answered with nine of the last eleven points of the stanza to take a 45-43 advantage into intermission. Paul Gombwer provided the highlight of the closing sequence of the first half, diving on the floor to claim a loose ball which led to fast break layup for Kennedy.
CSU now takes a break for Christmas before returning home to host St. Andrew's (N.C.) on Saturday, December 28 at 5:30 p.m. The Bucs will end the 2013 calendar year at Florida State on December 30.