CHARLESTON, S.C. – Charleston Southern plays host to rival Winthrop Friday at the Buc Dome. The first 500 fans in attendance will receive free rally towels courtesy of Raising Cane's. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on the Big South Network.
Both teams are looking to snap three-game losing streaks and rebound from tough losses Tuesday. CSU (6-9, 1-3 Big South) battled back from a 12-point deficit to take a one-point lead with 2:51 remaining against first-place Radford before the Highlanders persevered to remain unbeaten in league play. Winthrop (7-8, 1-3 Big South) led by seven points against Liberty before the Flames ended the game on a 10-0 run over the final 2:39 to prevail.
CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh was encouraged by his club's effort against Radford. Radebaugh knows the Bucs will need similar spirit and improved execution against a Winthrop program that has perennially been one of the Big South's best under sixth-year coach Pat Kelsey.
"All of these (conference games) are big – all 18 are," Radebaugh said. "We're focused on improving and I was proud of the way we improved Tuesday. We really wanted to win that game, expected to win and had opportunities late, with better execution, to win. Winthrop is always very good and well-coached and they have arguably the best player in the league so it will be a big challenge."
The Eagles graduated Big South Player of the Year Keon Johnson and several other key contributors off last year's NCAA Tournament team but still feature senior forward Xavier Cooks. Cooks was a first-team All-Big South pick last year and is perhaps the league's most versatile threat. The 6-8 Australian ranks among conference leaders in rebounding (2nd), assists (3rd), blocks (3rd), field goal percentage (6th), assist-to-turnover ratio (6th), offensive rebounds (7th) and scoring (7th). He had three double-doubles against CSU last season.
Positives in loss to Radford
CSU bounced back from a tough road trip to nearly hand Radford its first conference loss. Despite shooting just 43 percent overall and 4-for-18 from three-point range, the Bucs rallied from a 12-point deficit over the game's final nine-plus minutes behind a lineup of three freshmen - Deontaye Buskey, Phlandrous Fleming Jr. and Ty Jones - and two sophomores - Jordan Jones and Christian Keeling. CSU out-rebounded Radford 30-25, forced 17 turnovers and held dynamic forward Ed Polite Jr. to nine points and a 1-of-7 effort from the field. Polite came in on a tear, averaging over 25 points and nearly 12 rebounds in three conference games.
Bucs making big defensive strides
CSU currently ranks second in the Big South in field goal percentage defense and fourth in scoring defense. The Bucs were ninth – second-to-last – in both those categories a year ago. CSU has held seven of its first 15 opponents below 40 percent shooting.
Three-point shooting and rebounding could be key deciding factors as both teams look to avoid falling to 1-4 in league play. Winthrop leads the Big South and ranks 32nd nationally with 9.9 made threes per game. CSU is last in the conference in three-point field goal defense, allowing opponents to shoot 38.5 percent from downtown. The Bucs have also struggled with their perimeter shooting, ranking last in the conference in three-point accuracy (32.8%) and ninth in made threes (7.0) On the glass, Winthrop is 8th in the circuit with a -1.9 rebounding margin while CSU is second at +6.0. The Bucs pace the league in offensive rebounds, averaging nearly 13 per contest.
Jones giving Bucs boost off bench
Jordan Jones has delivered arguably his best two performances of the season since moving to the bench after starting each of the Bucs' first 13 games. Jones set new career-highs in minutes played (22), rebounds (7) and blocks (4) against High Point. His nine points versus the Panthers were the most he's recorded against Division I competition. Against Radford, Jones again set new career-highs in minutes (23) and rebounds (8). He added three more blocked shots and now ranks fourth in the league, averaging 1.3 per game.