LYNCHBURG, Va. – Cortez Mitchell erupted for 23 points, all in the second half, to spearhead Charleston Southern's rally from a 16-point deficit but Liberty held off the Bucs, 76-69, on Saturday at the Vines Center.
CSU (8-17, 4-10 Big South) trailed 43-27 early in the second stanza before Mitchell broke out for 23 points over the final 16:37. Mitchell started his onslaught with a four-point play and eventually hit two free throws to draw the Bucs within 59-57 at the 5:37 mark. A.C. Reid knocked down a three-pointer on Liberty's (17-10, 12-2 Big South) next possession, though, and CSU could come no closer than four the rest of the way.
Reid's trey was the tenth and final of the afternoon for a Flames team that leads the Big South in threes made and attempted. Liberty shot 49 percent from the floor, was 10-for-23 from downtown and assisted 16 of 22 field goals to win its sixth straight and remain atop the conference standings with UNC Asheville.
CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh was pleased to see his club challenge the league leader on the road. Mitchell's outburst came after CSU tinkered with its lineup, and the results gave the Bucs a chance at their fifth consecutive win in Lynchburg.
"Liberty's a very good team," Radebaugh said. "They're a very sound, extremely well-coached team. I was very proud of our effort. The second half was outstanding. We went small and that's what we're supposed to look like right there – 42 points in the second half, a lot of energy, a lot of great ball movement, a lot of good player movement and four guys on the court that can really, really shoot the ball. I was encouraged by our ability to really compete in the second half and hopefully we can carry that forward."
Myo Baxter-Bell matched a career-high with 19 points, 14 of which came in the first half, to pace Liberty. Ryan Kemrite added 16 points and buried his first four triples as part of a hot start that opened up a healthy early lead. Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz chipped in 12 points, eight assists and six rebounds and converted clutch free throws to help Liberty keep CSU at bay. Christian Keeling and Armel Potter joined Mitchell in double figures with 12 and 11, respectively, for the Bucs. CSU went 10-for-26 from deep, highlighted by a 6-for-13 clip in the second stanza.
Bell's layup capped a 10-0 run spanning both halves to put Liberty up by 16 early in the second half. Mitchell then drilled a corner three and was fouled in the process, adding a free throw for a four-point play that sparked CSU. The junior scored on an array of jumpers and drives, at one point tallying 13 of CSU's 20 markers during a stretch that saw the deficit sliced from 16 to four. Mitchell hit nothing but net on a contested three to pull CSU within 59-55 with 6:21 remaining, and pumped in two free throws 44 seconds later to make it a one-possession game.
"When he can drive and get to the rim and people can't come off and help, then he just becomes of extreme value," Radebaugh said. "He's a really, really good basketball player."
Reid, who hit a buzzer-beating three to beat Radford last week and another to force double overtime Thursday at Gardner-Webb, drained one of the bigger shots of the game on Liberty's ensuing possession. Following a stop, Pacheco-Ortiz drove the lane for a layup to push the Flames' cushion to 64-57. Patrick Wallace swished a three of his own to close the gap back to four and CSU would have several opportunities to make it a one-score game again. The sides exchanged misses, however, until John Dawson scored on a layup to put Liberty ahead 67-60 at the 1:47 mark. The Flames then went 9-of-10 at the charity stripe over the final 1:15 to cement the victory.
Liberty held CSU to 8-of-24 shooting in the first half to take 37-27 lead into halftime. Keeling and Antwan Maxwell hit threes in the opening 1:23 to get CSU out to a 6-2 advantage but Liberty asserted itself from there. Baxter-Bell threw down a pair of dunks to punctuate a 15-3 run that sent the Flames ahead, 33-17, with 3:41 left. The Bucs responded with a 10-0 spurt before Baxter-Bell netted four free throws to close the first half scoring.
CSU returns to the Buc Dome for its final two regular season home games this week. Campbell makes the trip to Charleston on Wednesday, with tipoff set for 7 p.m.