With the way Charleston Southern has handled double-digit leads of late, it might serve the Buccaneers better if they keep games closer.
Just days after blowing an 11-point lead in the final five minutes of a loss to UNC Asheville, the Buccaneers watched two double-digit leads evaporate in Wednesday's Big South Conference matchup at Gardner-Webb. However, this time around, CSU found a way to win.
Arlon Harper's 15-foot jumper with 2.7 seconds remaining helped the Buccaneers avoid a second straight tough loss as CSU won, 78-76, at Paul Porter Arena in Boiling Springs, N.C.
Charleston Southern improved to 9-9 overall and 3-2 in the Big South Conference while Gardner-Webb saw its two-game winning streak snapped, dropping to 2-3 in league play and 9-11 overall. Gardner-Webb beat CSU twice last season, both in overtime.
Charleston Southern held an 18-point lead in the first half, fell behind by five, and rallied for a 10-point lead with five minutes to play in the game. However, CSU did not score again until Harper's bucket, failing on seven straight opportunities in the last five minutes.
"We made a lot of mistakes tonight but we played very gutsy," said CSU coach Barclay Radebaugh. "We played really tough. We didn't play great but we played tough. We were very fortunate to win but we are thankful. We've had some close games this year and we've lost some tough ones. They tend to even out and tonight was our turn."
Harper finished the game with 12 points, scoring seven points in the first six minutes of the game.
"I've been struggling lately but Coach called my number and thankfully I was able to answer," said Harper. "This is a huge win for us. Gardner-Webb has become our big rival in our division so it's great to get a win here."
CSU opened the game on fire from the field, leading in the first half for all but a minute. The Bucs used a 15-2 run to take a 35-17 lead with 6:44 left in the opening half, but the Bulldogs closed the half on a 21-8 run to trim CSU's advantage to 43-39.
Gardner-Webb took a 53-51 lead in the first five minutes of the second half and opened up a 56-51 lead after a basket and technical foul on Charleston Southern's bench during a timeout. The technical seemed to spark Charleston Southern as the Buccaneers, trailing 61-56, went on a 13-0 run to take a 69-61 lead with 7:15 remaining in the game.
CSU stretched its lead to 10 at 76-66 with 4:40 remaining, but again had to hold off a late challenge as the Bulldogs methodically chipped away.
Tyler Strange hit both ends of a one-and-one to tie the game at 76 with 13 seconds left, setting up Harper's heroics.
Junior point guard Saah Nimley led all scorers with 20 points. Nimley is averaging 19 points per game over his last three outings. Junior forward Cedrick Bowen added 12 points while junior Will Saunders scored 11.
Seniors Matt Kennedy and Allie Fullah chipped in 10 points each with Fullah adding eight rebounds in his most complete effort of the season.
Jerome Hall paced Gardner-Webb's effort with 19 points.
Both teams shot 48 percent from the field with CSU shooting eight of 16 from beyond the arc.
Charleston Southern returns home to host Longwood on Saturday.
"Every game in this league is close, no matter what two teams are playing," said Radebaugh. "We take one game at a time. Longwood is another challenge for us."