RADFORD — Radford coach Mike Jones has long maintained that there is not much of a difference between the top and bottom teams in the Big South.
His first-place Highlanders got a stark reminder of that Saturday.
Charleston Southern, which came into the day in last place with only two Big South wins, handed Radford its first home loss in league play this season, leaving the Dedmon Center with an 84-81 overtime victory.
Christian Keeling scored a season-high 31 points for the Buccaneers (8-13, 3-7), including a pair of clutch free throws with 13.2 seconds left to break an 81-all tie in the extra session.
“Everyone in the league, from one through 10, is capable of winning on any given night,” Jones said. “We need to understand that and, because of the start we had, people are going to have even a bigger mark on us and we’ve got to be ready and impose our will from the beginning of the game. And tonight we didn’t do that.”
Radford (14-9, 7-3) dropped into a first-place tie with Winthrop and UNC Asheville after losing its first game at home this season, snapping a 10-game home winning streak that dated back to last season.
The Highlanders should have known they were in for a fight based on a 64-61 win earlier this month at Charleston Southern . True to that, the Buccaneers erased an early 10-point deficit to take an eight-point lead with 8½ minutes left.
Charleston Southern, which won its first road game in league play this season, went 9-for-20 from 3-point range and shot 47.2 percent from the field overall against a Radford squad that entered the day allowing only 65.6 points per game.
Four Buccaneers scored in double figures, with Cortez Mitchell (15 points), Sean Price (13) and Travis McConico (11) complementing Keeling.
Radford managed to turn things around down the stretch, however. The Highlanders erased a five-point deficit in the final minute and a half, going on a 7-0 run that included a game-tying 3 by Donald Hicks after Randy Phillips stole an inbounds pass and Ed Polite Jr. hit a stepback jumper in the lane that gave Radford a 74-72 lead.
Keeling made a pair of free throws with 18.2 seconds left to tie things up at 74. Radford guard Carlik Jones, whose last-second shot lifted the Highlanders to a 78-76 overtime win at High Point their last time out, misfired this time, with a stepback jumper at the buzzer from just inside the 3-point line drawing iron to send things to overtime.
The teams traded the lead five times in the extra session. Radford took an 80-79 lead after Phillips tipped a pass that led to a fast-break bucket by Jones with 2:01 left.
It was 81-all with 13.2 seconds left when Jones got whistled for a hand check on Keeling. The sophomore, who was 17-for-20 from the line, hit both free throws to make it 83-81 Buccaneers.
“I’ve never seen that number before, other than maybe Kobe when he gets 81,” Mike Jones said of Keeling’s free throw numbers. “My guy, Ed Polite, got slammed to the floor late in the game and no call. So I was a little disappointed with the way that went. …
“Instead of being solid, not showing our hands, we got a little greedy and stuck our hand in the cookie jar and got called for it repeatedly.”
With three seconds left, Polite, who scored 16 points, misfired on a 3-pointer.
“Not good looks,” Mike Jones said of both Carlik Jones’ shot at the end of regulation and Polite’s in overtime. “I probably should have called a timeout and called something specifically. I thought Ed had a nice good rhythm. … I blame myself for going with my gut on something, and it didn’t work out.”
After Mitchell made 1 of 2 from the line at the other end for Charleston Southern with .7 seconds left, a desperation heave by Highlanders guard Caleb Tanner came after the buzzer and didn’t come close anyway.
Hicks led Radford with 19 points, with Carlik Jones adding 17. Tanner scored 12 points, all in the first half.
Despite the loss, Mike Jones thought his team got a clear message.
“We have to be more urgent with everything that we do,” he said. “We have to be more urgent from the beginning of the game and not just cruise for a while and expect to turn it on at some point. We’re not that team. We’re a team that has to be hungry all of the time. We have to fight for everything we get.”