ASHEVILLE, N.C. (www.BigSouthSports.com) - A late 18-5 run lifted Charleston Southern to an 88-74 win over Liberty Thursday night in the quarterfinals of the Advance Auto Parts Big South Championship at Kimmel Arena.
After Liberty (14-18) cut a 17-point deficit to as little as two (63-61) with 7:13 to play, the fourth-seeded Bucs (18-11) began their decisive spurt. Jeremy Sexton scored nine of his 13 points during the burst.
Charleston Southern will meet top-seeded UNC Asheville (22-9) in Thursday's 8 p.m. semifinal. The host Bulldogs defeated High Point 86-61 in Wednesday evening's quarterfinal.
Sixth-seeded Winthrop (12-19) will take on seventh seed VMI (16-15) in Thursday's 6:00 p.m. match-up. Both semifinal games will be broadcast on ESPNU.
The Keydets eliminated second seed Coastal Carolina (19-11) 85-68 in Wednesday's first quarterfinal. Winthrop upset third-seeded Campbell (17-15) 71-55 in the second game.
Five times during the final period the Flames cut Charleston Southern's lead to a single basket, but each time the Bucs answered.
Saah Nimley led four Buccaneers in double digits with 19 points, including 4-of-8 threes. Arlon Harper added 18 points - 16 after intermission - and 3 steals. Big South defensive player of the year Kelvin Martin chipped in 18 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks and 4 steals, while Sexton dealt 7 assists in addition to his 13 points.
David Minaya topped Liberty with 17 points on 6-of-20 shooting. Antwan Burrus and Jesse Sanders added 14 each, and John Caleb Sanders scored 11 off the bench.
Charleston Southern hit 50 percent (31-62) of its shots, including 10-of-22 (.455) from 3-point range and 16-of-22 (.727) from the line. The Bucs converted 15 Liberty turnovers into a 21-15 edge in points off miscues.
Liberty finished the night shooting 28-of-61 (.459) from the field, 6-of-19 (.316) from beyond the arc and 12-of-13 (.923) from the line. The Flames held a 36-31 edge on the boards.
Charleston Southern hit 10 of its first 12 shots, including all 4 threes, and jumped to a 25-8 lead just 7:37 into the contest. The Bucs matched their largest lead (39-22) when Sheldon Strickland canned a triple from left of the key with 5:25 to play.
However, Liberty closed the half on a 13-2 run as seven different Flames scored. Minaya's triple with 17 seconds to go trimmed the Buc lead to 41-35 at the half.
Nimley scored 13 first-half points on 5-of-7 shooting (3-4 treys). Martin added 9 points for CSU, which shot 50 percent from the field and made 6-10 triples. Liberty shot 48 percent (13-27) from the floor in the first period and made 4-of-8 triples.
Liberty senior guard Jesse Sanders ended his career as the Big South Conference's all-time leader in assists (727) after dealing 7 Wednesday night.
Kelvin Martin moved into sole possession of 3rd place on the league's career rebounding list (963).
Charleston Southern Head Coach Barclay Radebaugh
"First off I want to really congratulate my team for their effort. To lose a big lead and to battle back shows a lot about their effort and their character. I also want to congratulate Liberty on their effort and particularly Jesse Sanders. He is one of the best players in the history of the Big South and it was an honor to play against him tonight and for four years. We are very happy about the win. It was a great effort by our guys and our coaches."
Liberty Head Coach Daley Layer
"I thought in tonight's game Charleston Southern was the better team. They didn't play harder than us or fight harder than us, they were just better than us. We have had three really tough games with Charleston Southern this year and tonight they made some big plays. Every time we made a run they made a big shot. I have no regrets with this team. I am proud of them in every shape and form."