CHARLESTON, S.C. – Charleston Southern takes on top-seeded Winthrop in the quarterfinals of the Big South Championship on Thursday night. Tipoff at the Winthrop Coliseum in Rock Hill, S.C., is set for 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ESPN3. Fans can also listen to the action on csusports.com. The winner advances to Friday's semifinals to meet the victor of the Gardner-Webb-High Point game.
CSU (12-18) extended its season with an exciting 79-74 home triumph over Longwood in Tuesday's first round behind Christian Keeling's double-double of 29 points and ten rebounds. Winthrop (23-6) was a unanimous preseason pick to win the league and did just that, earning the right to host the quarterfinals and semifinals on its home floor. The Eagles finished 15-3 in conference play and have not lost a game in regulation since Dec. 31.
CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh believes his young squad is eager for the challenge of facing a veteran Winthrop club that handily swept the season series. The Eagles have added motivation stemming from three consecutive losses in the championship's title game.
"We've got a lot of hard work ahead of us but we can go to Winthrop and play loose and free," Radebaugh said. "We'll be ready. Our guys will give a great effort. I know they're gonna go and lay it on the line Thursday night. Anything can happen this time of year. We've got tons of respect for Winthrop as the regular season champs. They've earned the right to host the tournament."
The Bucs will have to cope with, arguably, the league's top two players as they vie for a spot in the semifinals for the first time since 2013. Keon Johnson is the nation's tenth-leading scorer and earned Big South Player of the Year honors on Monday. The ultra-quick 5-7 point guard posted a 40-point game, four 30-point games, and 19 20-point games. Xavier Cooks finished as runner-up for Player of the Year after ranking second in the conference in rebounding and blocked shots, fourth in field goal percentage, sixth in scoring and ninth in assists. The versatile 6-8 forward poses a major matchup problem for everyone in the Big South.
"Winthrop is very, very good and obviously it starts with Keon and Xavier," Radebaugh said. "They're dynamic and extremely difficult to defend. We really need to guard to give ourselves a chance against a team we know is extremely hungry to get to the NCAA Tournament."
Winthrop beat CSU, 84-68, to open the Big South campaign on Dec. 29. The Eagles defeated the Bucs, 86-72, a week ago in Rock Hill and have won five straight games in the series. CSU will be bidding for its first win at the Winthrop Coliseum since the 2001-02 season.
Bucs avenge tourney losses to Lancers
CSU rode the trio of Christian Keeling, Cortez Mitchell and Armel Potter to defeat Longwood in Tuesday's first round. The Bucs erased a pair of early six-point deficits to take a five-point halftime lead and pushed their advantage to as much as 16 before withstanding a late Lancers' rally. Longwood had bounced CSU from each of the last two Big South Championship's, including an upset win over the top-seeded Bucs in 2015. The victory was CSU's first tournament win since March 5, 2014.
Keeling makes history with latest big effort
Christian Keeling became the sixth freshman in Big South history to score 500 points in Tuesday's win. Keeling accomplished the milestone with a tough bank shot in the lane that gave CSU an 18-14 lead near the midway point of the first half. He recorded his tenth 20-point game and fifth double-double with 29 points and ten rebounds. Keeling had 18 points on 7-for-9 shooting in the first half alone and finished 11-for-16.
Keeling looking to add to special freshman year
Keeling currently ranks as the fifth-highest freshman scorer in all of Division I. He is the highest scoring freshman in CSU history. Keeling is the only freshman in the entire country to lead his team in scoring and rebounding, pace all league freshmen in those categories and rank top-ten league-wide in each. The Augusta, Ga., product currently ranks fourth in the Big South in scoring (17.3 PPG) and fifth in rebounding (6.9 RPG). One of his five double-doubles came a week ago against Winthrop as Keeling racked up 28 points and a career-high 13 rebounds.
Potter playing best basketball at ideal time
Armel Potter bounced back from an 0-for-5 first half to score all 13 of his points in the second half of Tuesday's win. The sophomore energized CSU early in the stanza and was the catalyst as the Bucs pushed a five-point halftime advantage to 16. The performance marked the seventh straight game and tenth time in his last 11 that Potter has scored in double figures. Potter was CSU's leading scorer last year, earning a spot on the All-Big South Freshman Team.
Young Bucs showing progress
CSU has won four of its last five games and is 8-7 since starting Big South play 0-4. The Bucs have seven newcomers on their roster this year (effectively eight, counting redshirt freshman Antwan Maxwell) and will return all five starters, along with 78 percent of their scoring and 84 percent of their rebounding to date.
CSU hoping to snap long drought at Winthrop
CSU's last win at Winthrop came on January 24, 2002. Since, the Bucs have lost 15 consecutive games at the Winthrop Coliseum, including two in the conference tournament. CSU is 3-8 all-time against the top seed in the Big South Tournament.