CHARLESTON, S.C. – Christian Keeling and Cortez Mitchell set the tone, Armel Potter posted a big second half and Charleston Southern held off Longwood for a 79-74 win in the first round of the 2017 Big South Championship Tuesday at the Buc Dome. The victory earns CSU a date with top-seeded Winthrop in Thursday's quarterfinals.
CSU (12-18) erased a pair of early six-point deficits to take a five-point halftime lead and pushed its advantage to 72-57 with 5:07 left. Longwood (6-24) rattled off a 13-0 run to work its way back into the game, drawing within two on Isaiah Walton's jumper with 1:32 remaining. The Lancers' Khris Lane misfired on a game-tying three-point try with eight seconds left, though, and Patrick Wallace buried two free throws to secure the win for CSU.
A day after finishing as runner-up for Big South Freshman of the Year honors, Keeling tallied his tenth 20-point game and fifth double-double with 29 points and ten rebounds. He scored 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting in the first half alone and finished 11-for-16. In the process, he became the sixth freshman in the Big South's 33-year history to score 500 points.
Mitchell recorded 11 of his 14 points in the opening stanza and, along with Keeling, consistently drove to the basket through and around Longwood's defense. Potter bounced back from a 0-for-5 first half to score all 13 of his points after intermission, with the production spurring CSU to a lead as large as 16.
Walton and Lane paced Longwood with 24 points apiece. The Lancers shot nearly 54 percent in defeat.
CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh continues to be encouraged by the progress his young club has displayed over the last month.
"Lots of credit to our guys for finding a way," Radebaugh said after CSU's fourth win in its last five games. "I thought we played well and I thought Longwood played very well. We just weren't able to stop them enough on a consistent basis but we were able to score enough points. We're going to have to play a lot better defensively, for sure, Thursday night."
The triumph avenged back-to-back tournament losses to Longwood. Now, CSU will turn its focus toward a 23-win Winthrop club that earned the right to host the quarterfinals and semifinals by virtue of its regular season championship.
"I told our team afterwards there's nobody outside this room, if you pinned 'em down, that would say we have a chance to win at Winthrop," Radebaugh said. "We've just gotta believe. I believe in this team. Whether we win at Winthrop Thursday or not, I believe in this team. For this team to win four out of five down the stretch, they could have folded up their tent on the first of February and shut it down. They didn't do that and that says a lot about them."
Mitchell hit a 45-footer at the first half buzzer to send CSU into the locker room with momentum and a 38-33 lead. Potter energized the Bucs with an acrobatic three-point play early in the second half, pushing the edge to 47-40. Longwood closed the gap to 49-47 only to see CSU respond with an 18-4 run to seemingly put the game away.
Robinson started the barrage with a three before Potter went on a run of six straight points. The sophomore point guard scored on two more nifty drives and connected on two free throws, sending the cushion to 60-47.
"At halftime, I talked to Armel and I said 'this is going to be your half,'" Radebaugh said. "I said a prayer with him and I said 'just relax. You're one of the best players in this league. Just relax.' He was terrific – absolutely terrific. When he's like that, he's unguardable. When we get him and Cortez going with Christian, we can get it rolling."
Layups by JaShaun Smith and Walton narrowed the deficit back to single digits but the Bucs answered with seven in a row to forge a 67-51 lead. Keeling dropped in a pair of pull-up jumpers and Mitchell drilled a trey to put CSU in front by 16 at the 8:08 mark.
Walton scored seven points during Longwood's late 13-0 spurt, as the Lancers held CSU scoreless for 3:59. Keeling snapped that drought with two free throws to provide a 74-70 edge with 1:08 remaining. Three missed free throws after that gave Longwood a chance to force overtime but Lane's triple from deep on the right wing clanged off the rim and Keeling corralled his tenth rebound. The Bucs then got the ball inbounds to Wallace, who clinched the win with a pair of free throws.
Longwood jumped out to early leads of 8-2 and 12-6 but could not contain CSU's dribble penetration as the Bucs' scored 24 first half points in the paint. Keeling scored his 500th point on a difficult bank shot in the lane, giving CSU an 18-14 lead with 10:59 left.
The Lancers took a short-lived 32-31 advantage on Lane's trey late in the stanza but Keeling scored on a drive and Mitchell added one of his own before beating the buzzer to give the Bucs a 38-33 lead.
CSU will meet Winthrop on Thursday in the Big South Championship Quarterfinals. Tipoff at the Winthrop Coliseum in Rock Hill, S.C., is set for 7 p.m.