By Justin Mathis
SPARTANBURG, S.C.– Entering Saturday’s matinee, both USC Upstate and Charleston Southern were coming off of games that were quite the pair of opposites. CSU hit a shot with less than 20 seconds left to edge Presbyterian earlier in the week, while Upstate dropped a single digit decision on the road at Asheville on Thursday evening.
Both teams traded jabs throughout the first 20 minutes of action, which featured four ties and four lead changes. Charleston Southern jumped out to a 9-4 advantage just over three minutes in, but Upstate responded with a 10-3 run to take a two point lead.
During that run off of a steal, Malik Moore sprinted down the court for a chance at a fast break basket. Dalvin White spotted Moore and threw a long pass ahead into the front court, which looked to be a bit off the mark on initial glance. The ball one-hopped on the right of the lane in front of Moore, who corralled it on the way up for a layup and converted it into a three point play after drawing a foul.
In the later portion of the opening frame, CSU uncorked a 24-9 run over the last 8:42 of the first half to break a 20-all tie and take a 44-29 lead into the break. During the first four minutes of the second stanza, USC Upstate clawed back and cut the deficit to five points with 16:06 left.
The Spartans then got a quick steal, but missed two chances at a layup. A CSU player grabbed the rebound and quickly turned it into a transition basket on the other end, building the lead back up to three possessions. Not long after that, CSU drained a triple, which led to an Upstate timeout.
“Hats off to Charleston Southern,” Upstate head coach Dave Dickerson said. “They were the better team (and) they played like the better team. They played like a veteran team. Other than the fact (that) I’m coaching (against them in) the game, I enjoyed watching them play… The main thing is Charleston Southern really played well and we were not able to generate any defensive consistency.”
From that point forward, Charleston Southern imposed their will and built a lead as large as 25 points en route to a 90-71 victory inside the Hodge Center. Five Buccaneers finished in double figures, led by Christian Keeling and Dontrell Shuler with 18 points each, followed by Ty Jones (16), Travis McConico (14), and Philandrous Fleming (12).
Keeling, who has been used off the bench more in recent weeks for CSU, played a team-high 33 minutes.
“Our offensive execution over the last five or six games has been really good,” Charleston Southern head coach Barclay Radebaugh exclaimed. “We’ve got such a young team and we make so many mistakes, but the attitude and effort of our guys has really carried us and the execution is starting to catch up a little bit… Christian Keeling has an amazing attitude. He just wants to win, he wants to do whatever it takes to win, (and) he will take on any role. It really doesn’t matter for us who starts, because we’ve got about seven or eight guys who can start. We lean on (Christian) a lot and he played really well today in all aspects – defensively and offensively.”
For USC Upstate, Moore had 27 points, along with Brandon Martin (13), Everette Hammond (11), and Deion Holmes (10).
USC Upstate will have a week off before traveling to face Chris Clemons and the Campbell Camels on February 9th at 4:30 PM. Charleston Southern (10-11, 4-4 Big South) will host the Winthrop Eagles at 7:30 PM.