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Charleston Southern overcomes double-digit deficit, advances to Big South quarterfinals

CHARLOTTE -- Charleston Southern coach Barclay Radebaugh climbed the steps to the press table, sat down, and put on his glasses. He then proceeded to give a sermon -- mostly about basketball, but also a little about life. He spoke of his two stars beside him on the dais and broke down his team's first-round contest.

Then -- like his team -- he saved the best for last.

"It's hard to come back from ten points down in the tournament. I don't recommend it," Radebaugh joked. "We led for a whopping two minutes and 16 seconds. We led at the most important time, though. I'm thankful to God for that."

First, R.J. Johnson splashed a medium-range bucket to put his CSU ahead, 67-65, with 2:17 remaining. Following four High Point free throws in a row -- two off a technical coming from a Kalib Clinton dunk in which he held the rim -- the game was again tied, this time at 69. That set the stage for Claudell Harris.

The 6-foot-3 sophomore from Hahnville, La., stood in the right corner, measured, then worked through contact and drove to the bucket. Harris put up a floater that found the net and gave his club a lead it would not relinquish. The ninth-seeded Bucs survived an open three-point attempt from Abdoulaye Thiam to squeak past eighth-seeded High Point, 72-70, in the first round of the Hercules Tires Big South Basketball Championships.

"It was a play drawn up for me," Harris said. "I went downhill and kicked to my teammate. He drove and kicked it back to me. That's what we work on all the time in practice -- driving and kicking, trusting each other. I got the ball, he slipped a little bit on the baseline, and I did a little Euro-step. I laid it up, and one.

"The momentum was already on our side, but that was a huge momentum shift for us."

Charleston Southern (10-20) left the court at the interval trailing by 10, following a period in which the Bucs connected on just 39.3 percent (11-of-28) of their tries. Only two of CSU's nine first-half threes found the net. Even free throws were a struggle for Radebaugh's club, as despite working to the line 14 times in the period, CSU only hit six attempts.

The play of High Point All-Conference player Jaden House further complicated matters. House put forth a blistering first-half effort in which he hit 7-of-12 shots, scoring 18 points and flummoxing the CSU defense. The more House worked through traffic and beat defensive switches, the more any answer to his play seemed to fade -- well, everywhere except for on the Buccaneer bench.

"Jaden House is a great player and he gets downhill whenever he wants to," Harris said. "Our main focus was whenever he got downhill, rotate over and trust that we would have help on the weak side and just make plays and get stop after stop after stop."

"We made a tactical adjustment to keep (wing) Tyeree (Bryan) on him," Radebaugh added regarding the strategy on defending House. "We switch one through four, and we said no more switching and kept Tyeree on House. He stayed on House the entire half. House had 18 in the first half and six in the second half. Tyeree just took it as a challenge and was just able to handle the spin and contest with his length. He did a great job defensively and concentrating to not switch.

"Tyeree went to work."

House acknowledged the change in defensive strategy, but seemed to tip his hat to Bryan's effort.

"I don't really think so," House said when asked if he could have made any adjustments. "I felt like all the shots that I took were shots that I make. Going down the stretch, I felt like the play was a little bit physical and it could have gone either way. I don't think there was anything I could have done differently."

"I'm obviously disappointed in the game," High Point coach G.G. Smith said. "Jaden was in the zone early. Give a lot of credit to Charleston Southern. They kept fighting in the second half. I thought the second half was the biggest difference. We gave up too many transition points and too many offensive rebounds, and they figured out a way to get in the game."

Radebaugh praised his team's second-half effort while echoing Smith's comments about the significance of the period.

"I felt the courage in these men that have grown through the season. Adversity builds courage -- or it crumbles you," Radebaugh said. "These men keep going and keep going and keep going. They played their best basketball -- not the first half, but in the second half, man, they just kept going.

"We got down 13 points, and these men just came back. I'm really proud of them. I'm really, genuinely proud of the effort that they gave and the courage that they showed. That's what it's about. That's what we do at Charleston Southern. They never flinch. God always works in difficult times to develop the deepest character in men and women. These guys have just responded. To win like this -- to win the second half by 12 and execute late -- wow, what a great job by them."

Harris paced the Bucs with 20 points, hitting 7-of-21 from the field. Bryan and Johnson joined Harris in double figures, with Bryan scoring 14 on 6-for-13 shooting and Johnson hitting 4-of-7 to notch 10. The Bucs shot 44.4 percent (29-for-63) on the night, hitting 4-of-14 from distance. CSU held High Point to just 36 percent (9-for-25) in the second stanza.

High Point (14-17) saw House lead the way with his 24. House hit 9-of-19 tries. Fellow All-Conference performer Zack Austin contributed a double-double, scoring 13 points and hauling in 12 caroms. Thiam and Bryant Randleman added 11 apiece for the Panthers. High Point shot 38.1 percent (24-for-63) on the night Wednesday, hitting 7-of-26 (26.9 percent) from beyond the arc.

With the win, Charleston Southern advances to Friday's quarterfinals. The Bucs will do battle with top-seeded Asheville Friday afternoon in Bojangles' Coliseum. That contest is set for a noon (Eastern) tip, with streaming available via ESPN+.

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