BUIES CREEK, N.C. – It has been said of postseason basketball that teams work the entire season to ready themselves for postseason success.
It has not often been said that teams completely abandoned their regular game plan – in the span of just over a day, no less – and did so to perfection.
Charleston Southern broke that mold in its Big South quarterfinal appearance, however. The Buccaneers got 74 of their 77 points from four scorers, paced by Christian Keeling’s 25, in vanquishing Winthrop, 77-63, in quarterfinal play.
“We had to change our entire game plan from the last time we played them, and these guys did it in a day, and I’m really, really proud of them,” said Charleston Southern coach Barclay Radebaugh. “We had to do some stuff that was unnatural for us, because of the way they play. They’re very difficult to guard when they have five guys on the perimeter that can shoot like that.”
Charleston Southern (17-14) got off to a fast start, snagging a 10-4 lead. Winthrop battled back to tie the game at 10, then kept the game close for a prolonged stretch. The Bucs’ Dontrell Shuler and Christian Keeling dropped back-to-back triples just inside the six-minute mark, extending a one-possession lead to nine. The Bucs took a six-point lead to the interval, limiting Winthrop to 34.5 percent (10-for-29) from the field in the period.
“You could tell as soon as the ball was tipped that they had a bounce in their step today,” said Winthrop guard Nych Smith. “They came out and played tremendously on the defensive end. They just wanted it. They’re a great team, a talented group of guys, and they just played really hard today.”
Winthrop (18-12) maneuvered its deficit to just five on two separate occasions early in the second half, but many of the same concerns that appeared in the first half quickly resurfaced. Charleston Southern forced seven of the Eagles’ 17 miscues on the day in that closing stanza, which, combined with the Bucs’ suffocating defense, prevented Winthrop from drawing closer. The Eagles did not lead at any point in the game.
“(Turnovers) were just another way for them to get out and get some easy buckets,” said Smith. “Turnovers for home runs, as we call them, when they get out and make layups, really hinder what we like to do. We weren’t ourselves today. We’re usually the most potent offensive team on the floor at all times.”
“I thought we played terrific defensively. That’s the seventh game in a row we’ve held teams under 39 percent (shooting),’ said Radebaugh. “This team made a commitment on the defensive end. It’s a very, very young team that has learned how to play defense through the year, that has learned how to make a commitment to defense, but most importantly, has learned how to believe in defense. They’ve learned to believe in that, instead of leaning on offense. We don’t get flustered when we don’t make two or three shots, because we know we can consistently get stops.”
“We just locked in and played better defense than we did (in) the first two games,” said Shuler. “With our game plan, we’ve been so close two times (in two losses to Winthrop),” added Keeling. “Everybody bought in (to the changes). It’s hard to prepare for a team like that in one day, and you’ve just gotta give all props to the coaches and your teammates.”
“They played a tremendous game today. They played very, very hard and affected the game with their athleticism and their activity, and did a good job of disrupting our rhythm and creating offense out of that,” said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey. “Charleston Southern was the better team today. Period.”
Three Winthrop scorers reached double digits, with senior guard Bjorn Broman leading the way with 18. Smith tallied 14, while freshman forward Micheal Anumba contributed 10. The Eagles shot 33.9 percent (20-for-59) from the field, connecting on just 9-of-30 (30 percent) from distance.
Charleston Southern landed four in doubles, with Keeling’s 25 atop the stat sheet. The All-Big South performer also snatched seven boards and dished out three dimes in 37 minutes of play. Shuler added 22, with Phlandrous Fleming contributing 16 and Travis McConico 11. McConico logged 32 minutes off the bench for the Bucs.
The sixth-seeded Buccaneers advance to tomorrow night’s 6:00 semifinal against second-seeded Radford. CSU defeated Radford, 53-52, on Feb. 16. Third-seeded Winthrop’s season concludes with an 18-12 record.