ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Charleston Southern coach Barclay Radebaugh and UNC Asheville coach Nick McDevitt strode toward each other following Thursday night’s game, and Radebaugh gave McDevitt a hug that nearly lifted him off the ground.  Bucs guard Cortez Mitchell began crying in the postgame media session, as he spoke of what his collegiate experience meant to him.

All-Conference performer Ahmad Thomas drilled a jumper from the right side of the key as time wound down Friday night, giving his team a 71-66 victory in the Big South Conference quarterfinals.  For Charleston Southern, though, it felt more like a beginning than an ending.

“My team right now reminds me of them two or three years ago, when they were young,” said Radebaugh after offering extended praise for Asheville during his postgame remarks.  “I thought our guys competed as hard and as well in the second half as we did all year.”

The first half started fairly evenly, but quickly turned into just what the doctor ordered for the host side.  After a Christian Keeling jumper knotted the contest at 11, Asheville (21-11) unleashed a 10-1 run that extended the lead to nine.  The Bulldog margin stayed in that vicinity for most of the half, occasionally stretching into double figures.  Charleston Southern (15-16) knifed the margin to six on a jumper from Mitchell at the 2:46 mark, only to see a Thomas trey push it back to double digits a minute later.  The Bucs managed to work the lead back to just seven at the half, at 41-34.

After Charleston Southern worked the lead to eight at 46-38, a 6-0 Asheville run put the Bulldogs ahead by 14, and left the Bucs in serious peril of having the game get out of reach.  CSU countered with its own 8-0 spurt, reducing the advantage to six.  The Asheville lead continued to hover in that vicinity for much of the period, with a Drew Rackley jumper at the 6:15 mark putting the Bulldogs ahead by nine.  From there, Asheville saw its lead gradually drip away, first to seven, then to five, then to four and three.  The Bulldogs would hit just one more shot the rest of the game.

That shot was one of the two plays of the game.

Thomas cleanly stuck a jumper from the right side, a play on which Charleston Southern’s defensive star, Travis McConico, closely guarded Asheville’s senior star.

“I think Travis McConico fell down,” said Thomas after the game.  “I actually was ready to pass it to the corner guy, but when I saw he fell down, I just turned around and shot it.  It was just a good shot.”

“What a great call by Nick, to run that much time down and get it to the best player, one of the top two players in the league, and put it in his hands,” said Radebaugh.  “What a great call.  Travis did an amazing job defending that.”

The other came on a Jonathan Baehre block of a Jordan Jones dunk attempt at the 3:17 mark.  The dunk would have reduced Asheville’s lead to three, had it fallen.  “Maybe the play of the game,” said McDevitt.  “The momentum was kind of in their favor, you could feel it, you could sense it in the building.  He [Baehre] had four fouls … It was a little dump-down, and he went up and blocked that thing.  I thought it livened our team up, and livened the crowd up.”

Keeling led all scorers with 24 for Charleston Southern.  Mitchell added 14 in his final contest.

Thomas and MaCio Teague tied for Asheville’s lead with 17 apiece.  Raekwon Miller finished one assist and one rebound shy of a triple-double, scoring 12.  Baehre added 10.

Asheville will play in Friday’s second semifinal against Liberty.  That contest will tip at approximately 8:30 (Eastern) on ESPN3.

UNC ASHEVILLE 71, CHARLESTON SOUTHERN 66

CHARLESTON SOUTHERN (15-16): T. Jones 0-4 2-2 2, J. Jones 0-2 3-4 3, Mitchell 6-13 1-1 14, Keeling 10-20 2-2 24, Fleming 3-8 2-2 9, McConico 1-4 2-2 5, Buskey 2-2 0-0 5, Howard 2-3 0-0 4, Price 0-0 0. Totals 24-56 12-13 66.

UNC ASHEVILLE (21-11): Baehre 4-5 1-1 10, Vannatta 3-7 2-2 8, Miller 4-11 1-2 12, Thomas 7-14 2-4 17, Teague 5-11 4-5 17, Gilmore 0-0 0-0 0, Wnuk 2-3 0-0 4, Rackley 1-3 0-0 3. Totals 26-54 10-14 71.

Halftime — Asheville 41, Charleston Southern 34. 3-Point Goals—Charleston Southern 6-19 (T. Jones 0-1, Mitchell 1-4, Keeling 2-7, Fleming 1-3, McConico 1-3, Buskey 1-1), Asheville 9-27 (Baehre 1-2, iller 3-9, Thomas 1-4, Teague 3-7, Rackley 1-3). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Charleston Southern 35 (J. Jones 9), Asheville 28 (Miller 9). Assists —Asheville 17 (Miller 9), Charleston Southern 6 (Keeling/McConico 2). Total Fouls — Asheville 16, Charleston Southern 13. Technical — Mitchell (CSU), Teague (UNCA). A — NA.

Points in the Paint —Asheville 28, Charleston Southern 22. Points off Turnovers —Asheville 13, Charleston Southern 11. Second-Chance Points — Asheville 5, Charleston Southern 4. Fast Break Points — Charleston Southern 7, Asheville 2. Bench Points — Charleston Southern 14, Asheville 7.

Big South Tournament Schedule

Quarterfinals – Thursday, March 1 – ESPN3

Game 3: #2 Radford 59, #10 Longwood 53, 1:00pm
Game 4: #3 Winthrop 72, #6 Gardner-Webb 68, 3:00pm
Game 5: #1 UNC Asheville 71, #8 Charleston Southern 66, 7:00pm
Game 6: #5 Liberty 73, #4 Campbell 59, 9:00pm

Semifinals – Friday, March 2 – ESPN3

Game 7:  Semifinals – Radford vs. Winthrop, 6:00pm
Game 8:  Semifinals – UNC Asheville vs. Liberty, 8:00pm

Championship – Sunday, March 4 – ESPN

Game 9:  Championship – Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 1:00pm