ROCK HILL, S.C. – Charleston Southern punctuated its late-season turnaround in resounding fashion in Saturday's regular season finale at the Winthrop Coliseum. The Bucs built a 20-point lead and held on down the stretch to defeat Winthrop, 78-75.
*Big South Championship: CSU is the No. 8 seed and will host No. 9 Presbyterian in first round play Tuesday at the Buc Dome. The winner advances to play No. 1 seed and regular season champion UNC Asheville in Thursday's quarterfinals. The Bucs, at 9-9, finished tied for fifth place with Liberty, Gardner-Webb and High Point.
CSU's (14-15, 9-9 Big South) seventh win its last nine games came courtesy of a swarming defensive effort and the 1-2 punch of Phlandrous Fleming Jr. and Christian Keeling. The Bucs forced 19 turnovers – 12 in the first half – and limited Winthrop (18-11, 12-6 Big South), the Big South's top scoring offense, to 5-for-25 three-point shooting. Fleming tallied a career-high 26 points, while Keeling posted 22.
Both Fleming and Keeling scored 14 of their points after halftime and CSU needed all of that production to stave off a furious Winthrop rally. The Eagles trailed 56-36 following Keeling's dunk with 10:13 remaining and were still down 11 at the 4:24 mark before threatening in their bid to win a share of the regular season title. CSU's lead was whittled to two twice and to one with two seconds left but the Bucs hit 10-of-12 free throws over the final 41 seconds to prevail. Two Fleming free throws with 1.2 seconds remaining accounted for the final margin, as Xavier Cooks's three fell short at the buzzer.
CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh was thrilled with the feistiness his team displayed to beat a seasoned Winthrop squad on its Senior Day. The Bucs completed the second half of the league slate 7-2, with the only blemishes a two-point loss at Gardner-Webb and an overtime loss to regular season champion UNC Asheville.
"It was so much fun to celebrate in the locker room after winning like that on the road," Radebaugh said. "At the beginning of the season, we knew we had a special group and we also knew with these young guys, we needed to stay patient and positive. We made a decision that we were gonna stay positive and that's the biggest reason we've been able to do what we have. These guys work, and they made a ton of plays today to get a really quality road win."
Postgame Celebration - Bucs featured on Deadpin
How It Happened
- Anders Broman's triple with 2:48 left capped a 25-10 run to cut CSU's lead to 66-61. CSU responded with four of the next five to push its lead to eight with 41 seconds remaining, as Cortez Mitchell scored on an aggressive drive and Fleming buried two free throws.
- Winthrop scored 13 points over the final 35 seconds to nearly force overtime. Bjorn Broman's four-point play and Cooks's three-point play – off a tip-in – helped the Eagles hang around despite the Bucs' stellar free-throw shooting.
- With 1.2 seconds remaining, following the final two of Fleming's eight free throws, Cooks caught a long inbounds pass and fired a turn-around three at the buzzer. The shot clanged off the front rim, allowing CSU to win in Rock Hill for the first time since Jan. 24, 2002.
- CSU led 41-27 at halftime and continued to control the game for the first ten minutes of the second half. Keeling had six points during a 10-2 spurt that gave the Bucs their largest advantage, 56-36, at the 10:13 mark.
- In the first half, CSU's tight, pressure defense gave Winthrop fits. The Bucs recorded 15 points off 12 forced turnovers and frustrated the Eagles into a 1-for-10 mark from downtown.
- Five different players scored to power a 13-2 run and put CSU in front, 33-17, with 6:25 left. Fleming knocked down one of his four threes and Keeling recorded a steal and jam to cap that surge.
Inside the Numbers
- Keeling now has 998 points and is just two away from joining John Brown (High Point), Andrew Rowsey (UNC Asheville), Chris Clemons (Campbell) and MaCio Teague (Asheville) as the only players in Big South history to reach 1,000 career points as sophomores. He has scored in double figures in 37 straight games.
- Fleming notched his third 20-point game of the season and required only 11 shots to establish a new career-high with 26 points.
- Mitchell rounded out CSU's double-figure scorers with ten points and added three rebounds and three assists. CSU's 7-2 record over its final nine games came after Mitchell was inserted into the starting lineup at point guard.
- Adam Pickett paced Winthrop with 20 points and helped key the late comeback bid. Josh Ferguson chipped in 15 points and seven rebounds.
- CSU kept Cooks, a strong candidate for Big South Player of the Year honors, quiet for much of the contest. The 6-8 Australian finished with ten points, 13 rebounds and seven assists but committed six turnovers and scored only three field goals.
- The victory was CSU's first in Rock Hill since January 24, 2002. The Bucs had lost 16 consecutive games at Winthrop.
CSU is the No. 8 seed in the 2018 Big South Men's Basketball Championship and will host No. 9 Presbyterian at the Buc Dome in Tuesday's opening round. The winner will advance to take on top-seeded UNC Asheville in Thursday's quarterfinals. The quarterfinals and semifinals will be held at Kimmel Arena in Asheville, N.C.