By Justin Mathis, @J_Math23
SPARTANBURG, S.C. — The showdown at the Buc Dome last year between Charleston Southern and USC Upstate featured quite a bit of drama, so it was only fitting that the return matchup in Spartanburg had some drama of its own.
In front of an electric crowd assembled at the Hodge Center, the visiting Buccaneers managed to hold off a late charge from the Spartans to claim an 82-72 victory in a battle of future Big South Conference foes.
Upstate jumped out to a 9-1 lead less than three minutes into the contest, which was kickstarted by a quick outlet pass to Malik Moore for a layup off the opening tip. CSU responded with a 13-2 run to take a 16-13 lead with 11:14 left in the first half. During that run, the Bucs drew a pair of early fouls against Upstate forward Avery Diggs, which forced him to the bench in order to avoid further foul trouble.
Upstate trimmed the deficit down to 26-25 with less than four minutes left in the opening stanza, but the Bucs went on a 12-0 run to close out the half.
“The first half really cost us,” Upstate head coach Kyle Perry admitted. “We were out of kilter offensively and kept moving the ball on the perimeter. We’ve got to get more of a low post presence than we’ve gotten. We were not ready offensively and that’s what hurt us.”
The second half was a different story, as Ramel Thompkins provided a much-needed spark for the Spartans on the offensive end, specifically from the perimeter.
“(CSU) was in a 1-3-1 (zone) and we had added in a play,” Thompkins said. “They just kept leaving me open and my teammates kept finding me. They kept telling me to shoot it and (shots) were falling today.”
“Ramel got some good looks,” Perry added. “We got him the ball and he knocked them down. If we had played more like that in the first half, we’d been a lot better off. We took some ill-advised threes, which cost us. We’ll go back to work and get ready for Monday night.”
Thompkins scored a game-high 26 points for Upstate, which also was a new career high for the Georgia native. The Spartans cut the deficit down to four with a couple of minutes left in regulation, but the Bucs were able to knock down enough shots down the stretch to leave Spartanburg with a win.
“Getting Cortez (Mitchell) and Christian (Keeling) back was a big deal for us, because they’ve missed three games,” Charleston Southern head coach Barclay Radebaugh stated. “The poise of our team was really, really positive and our late-game execution was really good. Upstate’s a well-coached team, a good team. We made just enough shots against their zone, which is tough. To handle what we’ve handled – going to NC State, going to Davidson, then coming here and playing like that – I’m really impressed with our young guys.”
Thompkins was one of four Spartans to finish in double figures, as Jure Span chipped in 15 points, along with Mike Cunningham (11) and Malik Moore (10). Charleston Southern was led by Phlandrous Fleming with 19 points, followed by Christian Keeling with 14 points, while Travis McConico and Cortez Mitchell tallied 13 and 12 points, respectively.
CSU outrebounded Upstate by a 44-29 margin and got over half of their point total off their bench (43 points, compared to four from Upstate’s bench).
Charleston Southern (2-2) returns home to host Toccoa Falls at 11 AM on Monday, November 20th. Upstate (1-3) will host Paine College on Monday night at 7 PM.