CHARLESTON, S.C. – UNC Asheville staged a late 15-1 run to turn a close game in its favor and defeat Charleston Southern, 76-67, at the Buc Dome on Saturday.
Asheville (13-6, 5-1 Big South) held CSU (5-12, 1-5 Big South) without a field goal for 5:21, turning a one-point deficit into a 72-59 lead with one minute remaining. Six different players scored during the decisive stretch as the Bulldogs won their fifth straight to remain in a tie atop the Big South standings.
CSU led for the game's first 27 minutes, forging an advantage as large as 13 points before taking a 33-25 edge into halftime. The Bucs frustrated the Bulldogs into 34.6 percent shooting in the opening stanza, building off a strong defensive effort in Wednesday's win over Radford. Asheville shot 51.6 percent in the final stanza, though, to turn the tide.
CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh was encouraged to see his team exhibit more growth against one of the conference's top teams.
"Congratulations to Asheville," Radebaugh said. "They've got a good team. They're very competitive and certainly know how to win. I thought we played really well in the first half, offensively and defensively, and handled a lot of things thrown at us. I thought the first ten minutes of the second half, we played great."
"It got really physical with ten minutes to go," Radebaugh continued. "They put their head down and got to the glass a few times and we didn't respond to that the way we're capable of responding. When it got really physical, we didn't match their physicality with the same degree of physicality. For most of the game, we competed really well and it was big step forward for us against a really good team."
MaCio Teague paced a balanced Asheville attack with 18 points, including a perfect 12-of-12 mark at the free-throw line. Ahmad Thomas tallied 14 and David Robertson chipped in 13. Kevin Vannatta buried two clutch three-pointers during the Bulldogs' closing surge en route to recording 12 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals.
CSU also spread the wealth, with Christian Keeling again leading the way with 17 points. Cortez Mitchell had a run of six consecutive points during a key second half juncture to highlight a 15-point night. Armel Potter added 13 and Javis Howard finished with 12.
Vannatta's turn-around jumper with 5:55 left gave Asheville the lead for good. Following a CSU miss, Vannatta drove the left baseline and hit Robertson on the opposite wing for an open three. Will Weeks connected on a free throw and Teague tacked on four points in a row to cap a 10-0 spurt and give the Bulldogs a 67-58 cushion at the 3:41 mark. Thomas eventually punctuated the run with a layup off another pretty pass from Vannatta after Asheville broke the CSU press.
A pair of Teague free throws capped a 9-0 run to give Asheville its first lead with 12:36 left. The Bulldogs would push their advantage to five moments later before Mitchell jolted the Bucs with a much-needed answer. The junior guard knocked down a pull-up jumper, nailed two free throws and tipped in a put back off the glass to swing momentum and cut the gap to two. Keeling then followed with a lay-in to knot the score at 52 apiece. Rae Robinson would force another tie two and a half minutes later with a deep triple from in front of the CSU bench. Howard muscled in a layup off a smart pass from Potter to vault the Bucs in front for the final time, 58-57, with 6:07 remaining.
CSU came out with plenty of energy early, mounting a 19-6 lead by the 10:40 mark. The Bucs limited Asheville to 2-of-10 shooting and forced six turnovers over that stretch. Triples by Potter, Thomas and Keeling served as offensive highlights as CSU energized the home crowd. Keeling banked in his three and added a free throw for a four-point play, pushing the Bucs' advantage to 18-6.
A Howard jump shot still had CSU's lead at a dozen with 7:52 left before Asheville began to peck away. Thomas and Vannatta scored on drives to cut the Bucs' lead to five. After CSU increased the advantage back to nine, Asheville three times sliced it to six before Potter's step-back jumper accounted for the final basket of the period.
"The answer to that (how far off CSU is from winning close games against good teams) will be how will we respond from this," Radebaugh said. "Are we gonna learn from this? There's a lot to learn from this tape because next time when it comes down to the ten minute mark and it's physical, can we respond in a different way? If we can do that, then we're not far away."
CSU returns to action Thursday at Presbyterian College. Tipoff at the Templeton Center in Clinton, S.C., is slated for 7 p.m.