CHARLESTON, S.C. – Charleston Southern hosts Longwood in the first round of the 2017 Big South Championship on Tuesday. Tipoff at the Buc Dome is slated for 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on the Big South Network. The winner advances to Thursday's quarterfinals for a date with top-seeded Winthrop.
CSU (11-18, 7-11 Big South) enters winners of three of its last four, the last of which came at Longwood (6-23, 3-15 Big South) on Saturday. The Bucs struggled with a young team early in the year but made strides late, going 7-7 over their final 14 games following a 0-4 start to league play. The Lancers strung together a surprising 3-0 start to Big South play but lost their final 15 games, with ten of those coming by double figures and six by 20 points or more.
CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh is hopeful his young team can continue to build momentum and take advantage of a home conference tournament game.
"It's great for our team and our university to host a conference tournament game," Radebaugh said. "I want to feel the energy of the Buc Dome. I want our fans to come out, our students to come out and if we can have that, we'll have a great chance."
"We'll just take it one game at a time and have to focus all our energy on Longwood," Radebaugh continued of CSU's approach to the conference tournament. "The thing I like about this team is we've really improved and put ourselves in a good position to gain some momentum this spring. This tournament game will be good for us and then if we're fortunate enough to get this one, the pressure of going to play the No. 1 seed on their home court will be good for us. We're excited about the opportunity just to be able to continue to play."
CSU showed growth with one possession wins in its last two home games and then bounced back from a lackluster loss at Winthrop to beat Longwood in Farmville, Va., on Saturday. The Bucs dominated the first half to take a 47-27 halftime lead and pushed the advantage to 22 early in the second half before weathering the Lancers' furious rally. Longwood closed to within 66-65 with 6:24 left but Christian Keeling ignited a 7-0 spurt with four straight points to help CSU hold on. Patrick Wallace's three-pointer with 1:30 remaining sent the lead back to nine and served as the final dagger.
"I told the guys afterward that was really good for us because a month ago, we couldn't have done that," Radebaugh said. "That's really tough. You're doing everything right and then all of a sudden you're doing everything wrong. We showed composure on the road which was a great experience for us."
Slowing down Khris Lane figures to be important if CSU is to beat Longwood and avenge back-to-back tournament losses to the Lancers. Lane spearheaded Saturday's comeback bid with 19 of his 27 points in the second half, as the rugged 6-6 forward scored on an array of drives. The Drexel transfer is Longwood's leading scorer (16.8 PPG – 5th Big South) and rebounder (7.2 RPG – 4th Big South), and earned a spot on the All-Big South Second Team. Longwood is last in the Big South in scoring defense and several other statistical categories but does feature a dangerous scoring trio in Lane, Darrion Allen and Isaiah Walton, all of whom rank among the league's top-11 scorers.
Seeing the same team for the second time in four days will make the scouting report easier for both sides as they look to continue their seasons with a run into March.
"They're gonna be hungry too," Radebaugh said of Longwood. "They've had a tough stretch so they're going to try to put their season behind them and move forward. We've also lost to them in the tournament two years in a row. We went into it two years ago as the No. 1 seed and they upset us and then they beat us last year as well so that's added motivation."
Bucs looking to avenge tournament losses to Lancers
Charleston Southern and Longwood meet in the Big South Championship for the third straight year. The Lancers upset the top-seeded Bucs in 2015 and rallied from a 12-point first half deficit to win an 8-9 game a year ago. CSU is looking for its first Big South Championship win since defeating Campbell in a first round game on March 5, 2014. That victory earned CSU a date with top-seeded and eventual tournament champion Coastal Carolina, a game it lost 73-68 in double overtime.
Keeling looking to add to huge freshman year
Christian Keeling enters the Big South Championship just ten points shy of becoming the sixth freshman in the league's 33-year history to score 500 points. He was named to the All-Big South Freshman Team and earned Honorable Mention All-Conference honors on Monday. Keeling has already set a CSU freshman scoring record and leads all league freshmen in scoring (4th overall) and rebounding (6th overall). He is the only freshman in the country to lead his team in both categories, lead all league freshmen in both and rank top-ten league-wide in both.
Young Bucs making progress
CSU has seven newcomers on its roster this year (effectively eight, counting redshirt freshman Antwan Maxwell). The Bucs struggled early in the season but went 7-7 after a 0-4 Big South start and finished with wins in three of their final four regular season games. Barclay Radebaugh's club starts two freshmen and a sophomore and will return all five starters next year, along with 78 percent of its scoring and 84 percent of its rebounding to date.