CHARLESTON, S.C. – Christian Keeling's clutch free throw with 1.9 seconds left lifted Charleston Southern over High Point, 76-75, in a thriller at the Buc Dome on Saturday.
Keeling missed his first attempt after being fouled on a drive to the basket but calmly buried the second to send CSU (10-17, 6-10 Big South) to its second straight victory. High Point (14-14, 8-8 Big South) missed a three-quarter court heave at the buzzer to drop its third consecutive one-possession decision.
The Bucs led nearly wire-to-wire and got big contributions from Rae Robinson and Patrick Wallace on their Senior Day, with the duo combining to go 9-for-15 from three-point range. Zach Durkee drilled a trey of his own and assisted one of Wallace's four triples as CSU matched a season-high with 13 made threes. Armel Potter hit two timely jumpers inside the final two minutes as well, as the Bucs time and time again answered big shots by the Panthers.
CSU kept its hopes for a top six-seed and first-round bye in the upcoming Big South Championship alive. More importantly, it gave head coach Barclay Radebaugh's squad back-to-back close wins as they look to build momentum with two regular season games remaining.
"We're getting better and better," Radebaugh said afterward. "This is a really quality win against a really good team. It was a great week for us, being able to gut out two late. We've kept working and stayed positive and we hope it's starting to pay off."
Robinson's five threes and 15 points paced a balanced effort that saw CSU hand out a season-high (against Division I competition) 19 assists. The Bucs shot 50 percent overall and 13-for-28 from long range, with Keeling (14 points), Wallace (12 points) and Potter (11 points) joining Robinson in double figures.
Andre Fox and Tarique Thompson led High Point with 19 points apiece. Anthony Lindauer added 11 and Miles Bowman Jr. chipped in ten. CSU limited Bowman Jr., the Big South's third-leading rebounder, to just two boards and held its own on the glass against a tenacious Panthers' team.
Fox knifed his way inside for a three-point play to tie the game with 26 seconds remaining. The drive came after Potter drained two tough pull-up jumpers 48 seconds apart, with the latter giving CSU a 75-72 advantage at the 56 second mark. CSU put the ball in the hands of its freshman phenom on its final possession and Keeling delivered. Thompson blocked Keeling's initial shot but the rookie grabbed his team-high eighth rebound of the night and was fouled by Jamal Wright in the right side of the lane. After coming up short on his first try, Keeling knocked down the second to polish off his latest impressive showing.
"I'm really proud of Christian gathering himself to hit that last free throw," Radebaugh said. "That's tough to do and shows what he's made of."
"What a great job by 'Mel," Radebaugh continued of his sophomore point guard. "Those two shots were huge. They got it to one twice and he got it right back to three both times which were big answers for us. It's a great win and one that we'll enjoy before going after next week."
High Point's only lead came via a 7-0 run late in the second half. Lindauer connected on a jumper, Thompson notched a three-point play and Fox made two free throws to vault the Panthers in front, 70-68, with 2:50 left. The lead would last just 24 seconds, as Robinson hit nothing but net on a long three from the right wing. Potter and Keeling's heroics followed down the stretch as CSU avenged an overtime loss at High Point last month.
CSU built an eight-point lead near the midway point of the opening stanza but High Point shot 59 percent to the even the tally at 36 by halftime. The Bucs shored up their defense in the second half, holding the Panthers to a 44 percent clip. Robinson, honored before tipoff with Durkee, Wallace and Ugo Mmonu, buried four threes after intermission to help keep High Point at bay. All of those shots came with CSU clinging to a one-score lead.
Radebaugh started all four seniors alongside junior Javis Howard. Durkee stole the show early in his first career start. He opened the scoring by sailing through a contested three from the right wing 1:31 into play. The Anderson, S.C., product also drove the baseline and hit Wallace for a spot-up three and a 9-5 lead several minutes later. Robinson hit his lone three of the first half to give the Bucs their biggest edge, 21-13, at the 9:16 mark.
Wallace was red hot at the outset, connecting on his first four triples. He hit threes on back-to-back possessions late in the first half, with the latter coming off a step-back move and bringing the crowd to its feet.
CSU wraps up its regular season on the road next week. The Bucs will travel to Winthrop on Thursday before meeting Longwood two days later.