BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. – Charleston Southern cut a 17-point second half deficit to one with 2:05 left but its comeback bid fell short in a 79-75 loss to Gardner-Webb on Saturday at Paul Porter Arena.
CSU (4-11, 0-4 Big South) trailed 66-49 at the 11:01 mark before staging a spirited rally. The Bucs clawed back into the game with a 13-0 run, and closed to within 74-73 on Armel Potter's pull-up jumper. Gardner-Webb (9-8, 2-2 Big South) responded with four straight points, though, to hold on for its second consecutive win. Tyrell Nelson banked in a tough shot with the shot clock dwindling, and then LaQuincy Rideau secured a steal and found David Efianayi for a layup to push the Runnin' Bulldogs advantage to five.
The Bucs had another opportunity in the final seconds following two Potter free throws. CSU trapped Jamaal Robateau in the corner, causing him to lose his balance and fall out of bounds with 21 seconds remaining. Behind by three with possession, CSU came up empty, however, as Potter missed on a tough driving attempt. Brandon Miller grabbed the rebound and hit a free throw to seal the outcome.
Cortez Mitchell tallied a career-high 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting to pace CSU. Potter added 16, as did Jamal Thomas, who had the hot hand early with three first half three-pointers. Javis Howard contributed 13 points.
Gardner-Webb entered as the Big South's top shooting team and proved difficult to stop, shooting 56 percent overall, including 62.5 percent in the second half. Efianayi poured in a game-high 21 points, and Nelson recorded 15. Rideau filled the stat sheet with 14 points, nine rebounds, nine assists and three steals. The Runnin' Bulldogs enjoyed the advantage inside throughout the evening, posting a 58-30 edge in points in the paint.
CSU built an early nine-point lead but GWU surged in front, 42-38, at halftime thanks to 32 points in the paint. The Runnin' Bulldogs quickly increased their cushion after intermission, pushing the lead to double digits for the first time on Miller's stick back with 15:14 left. It would grow to 17 just over four minutes later following a pair of Efianayi lay-ins.
Potter scored on a drive to jumpstart a 13-0 run in which CSU held GWU scoreless for 4:45, swinging the game's momentum drastically. Mitchell followed with a three-point play and fed Thomas for a triple from outside the top of the key to whittle the gap to 68-60. Thomas also notched a free throw and fed Howard for two off a steal. Howard later scored on a possession where the Bucs grabbed multiple offensive rebounds, capping the surge and putting the score at 68-65 with 5:29 left.
Fresh off a career-high 19-point performance Wednesday at Campbell, Thomas again provided an immediate spark. He knocked down two threes in the opening 42 seconds to get CSU off to a hot start. The Bucs led for most of the opening stanza, at one point running off eight points in a row to go ahead, 23-14. Patrick Wallace drilled a three and Mitchell notched a three-point play and another driving bucket during that sequence.
GWU seized its first advantage courtesy of a 10-1 run. Rideau knocked down a triple to tie the score at 29 apiece. He also contributed an old fashioned three-point play after Efianayi's scoop and score.
CSU returns home for a pair of games next week. First up is a meeting with Radford on Wednesday, with tipoff at the Buc Dome set for 7:30 p.m.