CHARLESTON, S.C. – Charleston Southern begins its final homestand on Wednesday against Campbell. Tipoff at the Buc Dome is set for 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on the Big South Network.
CSU (8-17, 4-10 Big South) is coming off a difficult stretch where it played three of four on the road, including two against league co-leaders UNC Asheville and Liberty. The Bucs challenged in the latter game, trimming a 16-point deficit to two late in the second half before falling by seven. Campbell (13-13, 6-8 Big South) is vying for its third straight win and enters in a tie for sixth place, with the top-six at season's end earning a bye into the quarterfinals of the Big South Championship.
A victory would keep CSU in contention for a top-six seed but more importantly the Bucs are looking to build off a strong second half against the Flames. CSU combated Liberty's four-guard attack with a small lineup and it paid dividends, with Cortez Mitchell breaking out for a career-high 23 points over the final 16:37. Mitchell was 8-for-12 overall, and 3-for-5 from three-point ranges, in the second stanza, eclipsing the career-high 21 points he scored in last month's overtime loss at High Point.
CSU struggled defensively on last week's road trip and will need to execute better to earn a season split with Campbell. The Fighting Camels beat the Bucs, 92-82, in a shootout six weeks ago behind guard Chris Clemons' career-high 37 points. Clemons leads the Big South and ranks fifth nationally in scoring, averaging 23.1 PPG. The reigning Big South Freshman of the Year has recorded 19 20-point games this season.
Campbell shot 57 percent from the field and made 21-of-27 free throws after halftime to turn back one of CSU's better offensive performances of the year in the first meeting. The Bucs, sparked by the insertion of Rae Robinson and Jamal Thomas into the starting lineup for the first time, built a 32-20 lead late in the first half before the Camels swung the game with a 15-4 run to end the period.
The Camels have improved in their fourth year in coach Kevin McGeehan's Princeton offense, ranking third in the league in both field goal percentage and three-point percentage. CSU will also have to guard against fouling, as Campbell leads the Big South and ranks 35th nationally with a 75 percent clip at the free-throw line. Clemons and forward Shane Whitfield are both top-31 in made free throws, with each attempting more than six per game.
Mitchell breaks out vs. Liberty
Cortez Mitchell posted a career-high 23 points in Saturday's loss at first-place Liberty. Mitchell was scoreless before notching a four-point play with 16:37 remaining. The shot sparked CSU's comeback from a 16-point deficit. Mitchell eventually drained a pull-up three and buried two free throws to close the score to 59-57 at the 5:37 mark. The junior guard set his previous career high with 21 points in January's overtime loss at High Point. Mitchell played his first two seasons of college ball at Pearl River Community College, earning Division I scholarship offers from the likes of Missouri, UTEP and Southern Mississippi.
Recapping the first matchup
Chris Clemons tallied ten points in a 3:53 span late in the first half to dig Campbell out of a 12-point hole and cut CSU's halftime lead to one. The teams then traded the advantage twice and were tied three times before the Camels controlled the final 12-plus minutes. Marcus Burk hit two free throws and drained a three-pointer for a five-point possession that put Campbell in front for good at the 12:18 mark. Campbell shot 57 percent from the field and sunk 21-of-27 free throws after intermission to sustain one of CSU's better offensive performances of the year. The Bucs shot 57 percent overall, including 59 percent in the second stanza, but could not string together enough stops to prevail. Jamal Thomas poured in 19 points in his first career start to pace four players in double figures.
Keeling keeps on scoring
Despite a down shooting night, Christian Keeling tallied 12 points for his fifth consecutive double-figure scoring effort on Saturday against Liberty. Keeling has been named Big South Freshman of the Week five times. He continues to lead all league freshmen in scoring and rebounding. He's scored in double figures 21 times, highlighted by seven 20-point efforts. Keeling poured in a career-high 33 points in CSU's win over Radford on Jan. 11.