It has been said by coaches in all sports ad nauseum how difficult it is for one team to beat another team three times in a single season. Third-seeded Winthrop and sixth-seeded Charleston Southern tested that theory on Thursday in their quarterfinal matchup of the Big South Conference Tournament in Buies Creek, N.C.
After losing to Winthrop twice in the regular season by a total of five points, the Buccaneers got the better of the third contest, winning 77-63 to advance to the semifinals on Friday against Radford.
CSU (17-14) led from start to finish, never trailing while leading by as many as 15 points in the second half. The Buccaneers limited the Eagles to just 33.9-percent shooting from the field, the seventh consecutive opponent to shoot less than 40 percent against CSU.
Winthrop, one of the top 3-point shooting teams in the country, made 9 of 30 shots from beyond the arc. CSU made 12 of 23 attempts from long range while shooting 49.2-percent overall from the field.
Junior guard Christian Keeling poured in 25 points, making five 3-pointers. Freshman guard Dontrell Shuler added 22 points while sophomore wing Phlandrous Fleming scored 16 points. CSU’s lone senior, forward Travis McConico, posted 11 points, eight rebounds, six assists and four steals.
Winthrop guard Bjorn Broman paced the Eagles with 18 points, connecting on five 3-pointers.
“We had to change our entire game plan from last time we played them, and these guys did it in a day,” CSU coach Barclay Radebaugh said. “We had to do some stuff that was unnatural for us because of the way they (Winthrop) play. They are very difficult to guard.
“I thought we played terrific defensively. This team made a commitment to the defensive end. They’re a very young team that’s learned how to play defense through the year. They have learned how to believe in defense.”
The Buccaneers jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first two minutes of the game and led 10-4 before Winthrop’s 6-0 run tied the game at 10 with 14:14 left in the first half.
CSU led throughout the first half, extending to a 19-13 lead after baskets by Shuler and Keeling with 9:04 remaining.
Keeling’s third trey of the half pushed CSU’s lead to 32-23 with 4:05 remaining and Shuler later hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Bucs a 38-29 lead with 53 seconds left in the half.
Broman made a late 3 to cut CSU’s halftime margin to 38-32.
Keeling and Shuler each had 13 points at the break, each with three 3’s.
As expected, the Eagles and Broman came out with a better shooting touch early in the second half. Winthrop made three 3-pointers in the first five minutes of the second period, but CSU matched the Eagles shot for shot.
Keeling’s trey gave CSU a 54-42 lead with 14 minutes remaining and consecutive 3’s from Fleming and Keeling made it 60-50 with under 11 minutes left.
Broman scored 11 consecutive points to bring the Eagles to within 68-61 with 5:17 remaining, but the Eagles managed only two more points as CSU closed the game on 9-2 run.
“We struggled with Broman, which we always do,” Radebaugh said. “But we were able to contain them and fill those open gaps pretty well today.”
Radford, the second-seed in this year’s tournament, split two games with CSU during the season, each winning at home.
“We’re excited to advance, that’s been great,” Radebaugh said. “Really thrilled about the way we played today.”
Tipoff for Friday’s semifinal game will be at 6 p.m.