Despite building a 12-point lead early in the second half, Charleston Southern was unable to hold off Radford down the stretch and lost a Big South Conference Tournament semi-final contest, 63-54.
The Buccaneers saw their five-game winning streak snapped and ended with a 17-15 record. CSU won 10 of its last 14 games.
Radford, the defending tournament champions, advances to the tournament championship game on Sunday with a 22-10 record.
CSU led 29-19 at the half and held a 41-29 lead five minutes into the second half. The veteran Highlanders used a 14-0 run to take a 43-41 lead with 11:07 left in the game.
“Congratulations to Radford. That’s a really good basketball team,” CSU coach Barclay Radebaugh said. “They play with a lot of discipline and they’re a veteran, experienced team.
“I thought we were incredible in the first half, as well as we’ve played all year defensively. I thought it got away from us in the second half a little bit. Credit our guys. We went at it. We laid everything on the line. We gave it our best shot. We played as hard as we could play.”
Junior guard Christian Keeling led CSU with 15 points, scoring 62 points in three tournament games. Sophomore Phlandrous Fleming added 10 points, all in the first half. The Buccaneers shot only 35.5 percent from the field for the game.
Guard Carlik Jones paced Radford with 21 points, and Travis Fields added 16. The Highlanders shot 24.1 percent in the first half but finished at 38 percent for the game. Jones and Caleb Tanner each made three 3-pointers.
“I’ve been doing this for 31 years, 14 at CSU, and I can’t remember having this much fun,” Radebaugh said. “It’s a fun time to be at Charleston Southern. It’s going to hurt because we are good enough to win this tournament. We’re going to win this tournament. I am really excited about our future.”
Both teams struggled from the field in the early moments of the game as the Highlanders held a 15-11 lead with seven minutes left in the first half.
The Bucs, however, found their touch down the stretch. Shuler hit back-to-back 3s, followed by a trey from Fleming, as part of a 14-0 CSU run to push the Bucs out to a 25-15 lead with 3:44 left in the half.
Travis Fields hit a 3-pointer with 3:22 remaining, snapping a nearly nine-minute streak without a field goal for the Highlanders.
After CSU fell behind in the second half, Ty Jones hit back-to-back baskets to give the Bucs a 46-43 lead with 7:36 left in the game.
Fields drilled a 3-pointer with 6:06 left in the game to give Radford a 48-46 lead. The Highlanders would never trail again.
“We missed four or five layups in the second half,” Radebaugh said. “We did a great job to create those shots. On most nights those shots go in. Credit Radford. They made shots when it counted.”
The Buccaneers had only one senior, forward Travis McConico, on the roster this season. Speculation is that Keeling may leave school early, which would be a major loss, but with no other defections, the Bucs will enter next season as one of the league’s favorites.
Keeling, a first-team all-conference selection, is within reach of the school’s career scoring list should he return for his senior year.
“My dream has not been accomplished,” Keeling said. “I want to play in the NCAA Tournament, and I want to do at Charleston Southern. With me graduating, I am going to do what’s best for me and my family. That’s the least of my worries right now.”