Coming off the worst shooting performance of his career, Charleston Southern senior guard Sheldon Strickland poured in a career-high 35 points to lift the Buccaneers to an 80-66 win over Big South foe Liberty.
Charleston Southern improved to 10-11 overall and 4-4 in the Big South, snapping a two-game home losing streak and avenging last year's loss to Liberty (9-14, 3-5) in the Big South Conference tournament championship game.
In Wednesday night's loss at Campbell, Strickland made only two of 17 shot attempts and missed all nine of his 3-point attempts in his first start of the season.
On Saturday, Strickland connected on 13 of 18 field goal attempts, including seven of 11 shots from beyond the arc while playing for injured starter Saah Nimley.
"Sheldon played just as well against Campbell but the shots just didn't go in," said CSU coach Barclay Radebaugh. "He was just as aggressive and just as confident on Wednesday. Some nights the shot go in. Tonight, he played like we needed him to play and I'm proud of him."
Junior guard Arlon Harper was able to play 18 minutes, scoring 11 points, while nursing a sore ankle. Nimley did not dress for the game.
Junior Will Saunders scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds while senior center Allie Fullah added eight points and 10 rebounds for the Buccaneers.
Charleston Southern shot 50 percent from the field and connected on 10 three-pointers but Radebaugh said his team's improvement defensively was the real story.
The Bucs have been one of the league's worst defensive teams over the last few weeks but held Liberty to 34 percent shooting for the game. The Flames shot only 31 percent in the second half and never led in the game.
"We needed this," said Radebaugh. "We have changed our mentality the last three or four days. We defended today. We need something to hang our hat on, other than being a three-point shooting team. We need something to hang our hat on when the shots are not falling for us. We want to be able to hang our hat on defense. We had a couple of rough days in practice. To their credit, they responded very well."
Liberty's backcourt combo of Davon Marshall and John Caleb Sanders was limited to six of 23 shooting and 26 total points.
Charleston Southern grabbed control early, scoring the first eight points and grabbing a 29-9 lead midway through the half. Strickland finished the first half with 20 points as CSU led, 45-27, at the break.
"I just wanted to stay humble and hungry and let the game come to me," said Strickland, whose previous career best was a 27-point effort as a freshman. "Every game is a new game and every game you have to step out on the court and play that game. That game (Wednesday) was over and I had to play tonight and try to help this team win."
The lead would stretch to 27 at 61-34 with 13:33 to play and was the end result was never in doubt.
Charleston Southern will host Radford on Wednesday before finishing the Big South Conference schedule with five of its last seven games on the road.
"We're not letting up on our focus defensively," said Radebaugh. "I told the guys that Monday would be a very hard, tough practice. If you can't guard and defend, you can't play. I think this team will continue to respond."
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