by Carrie Birkett | firstname.lastname@example.org
Radford Men’s basketball (9-14) started out last week hosting conference leader Winthrop (18-5). When these two teams met earlier in the season, Radford edged out the Eagles in an 82-80 upset behind Justin Cousin’s six 3-pointers and Caleb Tanner’s second straight 20-plus point game. But last Wednesday the Highlanders were doomed from the beginning.
Ed Polite, Jr. tied a season-high 21 points with Christian Bradford adding 14 points. But unlike the first matchup between the two teams, Radford connected on just 2-of-19 3-pointers.
Winthrop came out balling taking an early lead, with Radford trailing by as many as 12 at one point. Radford got a late kick start after Bradford’s driving dunk right before the half to cut the score to 38-30 heading into the break.
Going on a 13-5 run to start the second half, the Highlanders managed to tie the game up, but Winthrop quickly regained the lead behind back-to-back 3-pointers.
Radford tried to hold onto the Eagles with each Winthrop push, managing to come within reach of them but falling just short.
Radford used an 8-0 run lead by Polite with 5 points and a 3-pointer by Tanner to close the game at 66-60, but Winthrop answered breaking Radford’s momentum with a 3-pointer starting a 7-0 run that Radford would never recover from.
Winthrop took the game with a final score of 81-65.
Bradford scored all of his 14 points in the first 25 minutes. Polite had his third 20-point game of the season, adding five rebounds and two steals. Freshman Donald Hicks grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds, almost posting his first double-double with nine points.
“We kept battling the whole game and gave ourselves a chance to get back in it because of our defense… We’ve just got to keep battling. I like our team’s toughness and grit and determination and we’re going to battle every minute we’re on the floor,” Radford Head Coach Mike Jones had to say after the game.
Radford then traveled on Saturday to face in-state rival Liberty (15-10). In the first meeting between the two teams just under a month ago, Radford battled back from a 25-point deficit to force the game into overtime but Liberty won 71-64.
The Highlanders led for most of the game but each half was a different story for each team. They each held their own offensively in the first half but then the second half came around they each put on a show from the defensive side.
Radford finally broke its streak of starting games off cold and trying to play catch up, scoring on its first three possessions and hitting six of its first nine shots. They built a 14-5 lead going into the first media timeout. Randy Phillips scored six points inside and Cousins connected on two straight three-pointers for the nine-point edge.
Liberty was not going to go down easy, though. They went on a 12-2 run to take the lead, but Tanner connected on three straight three-pointers to push the Highlanders back out in front. The Flames, of course, tried to stay in sync with Radford to not let them take the lead and run with it. But Bradford banked in another three-pointer to make the score 30-25 Radford.
Phillips and Cousin made it 34-25 with 3:40 remaining in the half, but then Radford wouldn’t make another shot in the rest of the half and settled for a three-point lead going into the break.
In the first 12 minutes of the second half, Radford made just 2-of-9 shots while committing nine turnovers. Liberty then used a 6-0 run to take its biggest lead of the game at 47-43. Radford took a timeout and responded by breaking their basket drought to net three in the span of 1:35. Tanner hit a baseline runner, Darius Bolstad made a jump hook in the lane and Bradford drove for a layup to give them the 49-47 edge.
Radford would go quiet again, not scoring until Polite’s basket while Liberty converted three free throws and a layup to take a three-point lead.
Cousins would go ahead and hit a game-tying three-pointer with 4.3 seconds left on the clock. The Flames then advanced to half court and called a timeout with 2.6 left. Liberty’s A.C. Reid got the ball just to the left of the key, his shot hitting left of the rim but caroming off the glass going in and giving the Flames the 57-54 buzzer-beater victory over Radford.
Cousin and Tanner each scored 11 points to lead four Highlanders in double figures. Polite narrowly missed his 11th double-double scoring 10 points and nine rebounds.
“It seems like every game we play against Liberty has been like that since Coach McKay got there. Last year we won two close ones and this year we’ve lost two close ones. It’s painful, but I definitely love the way our guys competed for the whole game and gave themselves a chance with Cousin’s big shot to go into overtime. If Reid shoots that from the side, it’s an airball by about five feet but he happened to be at the right angle. We banked one in when it counted. Obviously a tough break for us,” said Jones.
Radford will look to get back to winning ways against Charleston Southern Thursday night when they host the Buccaneers at 7 p.m. in the Dedmon Center. They then travel to High Point to take on the Panthers on Saturday night. Tip-off from High Point, N.C. is set for 7 p.m.