Winning home games in the Big South is imperative for any team with hopes of winning the conference’s regular-season title. And Charleston Southern let a big opportunity slip away at home on Saturday night.
UNC Asheville closed the game on a 15-2 run, overcoming an 11-point deficit, to steal a league victory, 80-76, at the CSU Field House.
The Buccaneers dropped to 8-9, 2-2 in Big South play.
Freshman guard Andrew Rowsey put on quite a show for the Bulldogs (9-9, 3-1), finishing with 35 points, hitting six of nine from beyond the arc. Rowsey led a game-ending 18-3 run over the final 4:33 to spark his team down the stretch.
Asheville scored on its final nine possessions of the game.
“It has been a while since I have seen a shooting display like that, particularly by a freshman and on the road,” CSU coach Barclay Radebaugh said of Rowsey’s performance. “We tip our hat to him. He made some very difficult shots in some clutch situations.
“It came so quick, so quick. We’re up nine and all of sudden they’re up one. They made some big-time plays and we credit them for that. We have to go back and look and see if there are some things defensively we could have done better but right now, I would just say they played very well at the end of the game.”
Junior point guard Saah Nimley was one of four players in double figures for CSU, scoring 19 points with eight assists. Senior guard Sheldon Strickland added 15, all in the first half, and junior forward Cedrick Bowen scored a season-high 13 points off the bench.
Rowsey’s performance was the best ever for an Asheville freshman and the second-most points scored by a Bulldogs player since the 1986-87 season.
The first half was a tight affair and foul-plagued as the teams combined for 22 fouls in the opening 20 minutes. Asheville’s largest lead of the half was five points, and CSU took its largest lead with two minutes remaining after Strickland hit three consecutive 3-pointers for a 44-37 advantage.
Rowsey, who finished the half with 17 points, hit a 3-pointer and followed with three free throws with two seconds left to cut CSU’s halftime margin to 46-43.
CSU shot 55 percent from the floor in the first half, while Asheville kept it close by making 17 of 20 free throw attempts.
The Bucs opened the second half with a 7-2 spurt to push out to a 53-45 lead with 15:48 remaining. CSU stretched the lead to 11 on Malcolm Bernard’s offensive put-back of a missed shot, giving the Bucs a 60-49 advantage with 12:30 remaining in the game.
The lead was 73-62 with 4:33 to play when Rowsey and the Bulldogs began their comeback. CSU managed just one field goal over that span and Rowsey scored eight points during the run, including an off-balance 3-pointer with 1:10 to play to give Asheville a 77-76 lead.
Down 79-76 with the ball, Nimley got off a pair of 3-point attempts with less than 18 seconds remaining but neither dropped, and the Bulldogs sealed the win with a free throw from David Robertson.
“I thought we did some things very well,” said Radebaugh. “We controlled the boards. We had 17 assists and shot 47 percent for the game. We have to improve our shooting percentage in the second half of games. That’s several games in a row where the percentage has dropped significantly. Our end-game execution, I thought we made some mistakes that cost us. Then, we missed some free throws late.”
CSU hits the road for a game at Gardner-Webb on Wednesday.