CHARLESTON, S.C. – Charleston Southern begins a stretch of three of four games away from home Wednesday at first-place UNC Asheville. Tipoff at Kimmel Arena in Asheville, N.C., is slated for 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on the Big South Network. Fans can also listen to the action on csusports.com.
CSU (7-14, 3-7 Big South) is looking to rebound from back-to-back losses last week. The Bucs had won two consecutive games and three of their last four but suffered a hard-fought overtime loss at High Point and a home defeat to Gardner-Webb. Asheville (16-7, 8-2 Big South) has won three straight and eight of nine since opening conference play with an overtime loss at Radford. The Bulldogs currently sit in a three-way tie atop the league standings with Winthrop and Liberty.
The Bulldogs got the better of the Bucs, 76-67, in a tightly contested affair in Charleston on January 14. 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. Asheville rallied down the stretch, using a 15-1 run to turn the contest into its favor. After CSU thwarted Asheville's balanced attack in the opening stanza (34.6 percent shooting), the Bulldogs pushed back with a nearly 52 percent clip over the final 20 minutes.
A stretch of excellent defensive play was snapped in Saturday's loss to Gardner-Webb. CSU had held four of its last five opponents to 40 percent or less from the field but the Runnin' Bulldogs set the tone early en route to a 61 percent night. The Bucs whittled a 19-point deficit down to eight twice in the second half but could never quite get in gear on either side of the floor.
CSU will need to be sound offensively and defensively to have an opportunity to best Asheville on the road. Asheville currently leads the Big South in three-point field goal percentage (10th nationally), assists, steals per game (9th), turnover margin (4th) and assist-to-turnover ratio (35th). Junior forward Ahmad Thomas leads Asheville in scoring at 17 PPG and is one of the top all-around players in the conference, ranking among league leaders in steals (2nd), scoring (3rd), field goal percentage (3rd), minutes played (5th) and rebounding.
Wednesday's matchup again pits perhaps the two frontrunners for Big South Freshman of the Year honors. CSU's Christian Keeling and Asheville's MaCio Teague have been neck-and-neck all year long among freshmen leaders in scoring. Keeling currently paces the circuit at 16.5 PPG, with Teague close behind at 15.3 PPG. Keeling posted 19 points and four rebounds in the first meeting, while Teague tallied 18 and four, along with three assists.
Following Wednesday's game, CSU will return home to play Presbyterian Saturday. The Bucs will be bidding for their sixth consecutive season sweep of the Blue Hose.
Keeling keeps on scoring
Christian Keeling recorded 27 points Saturday against Gardner-Webb, marking his sixth 20-point effort of the season. Keeling also added ten rebounds for his third double-double. The freshman is on pace for well over 400 points, which would allow him to join Armel Potter as Bucs to eclipse that mark in their rookie campaigns.
Howard a force on the glass
Javis Howard continues to lead the Big South in offensive rebounds, averaging nearly 3.4 per game. The junior currently ranks 26th nationally in the category. Howard grabbed five offensive rebounds against High Point, marking the fifth straight game he'd tallied at least three.
Bucs look to kick defense back in gear
CSU limited High Point to 38 percent shooting in Thursday's overtime loss. The effort marked the fourth time in five games the Bucs have limited the opponent to 40 percent or less from the field. CSU did not achieve that in any of its first 12 games against Division I competition.
Career night for Mitchell vs. High Point
Cortez Mitchell tallied a career-high 21 points against High Point. Mitchell was the focal point for the Bucs' offense down the stretch of regulation and in overtime. His previous career-high came in an efficient 18-point outing against Gardner-Webb on Jan. 7. Mitchell was 7-for-10 from the field in that game and helped spark the Bucs' comeback bid from a 17-point second half deficit.