The Charleston Southern Buccaneers outrebounded visiting Hiwasse by 30 and wore down the Tigers in the second half for a 105-69 win in their home opener on Thursday night at the Buc Dome.
CSU grabs its first win of the season to move to 1-2, while Hiwasse falls to 1-6.
Charleston Southern was tested for 20 minutes by the Tigers and unable to come up with defensive stops to build on its 34-point effort in the game's first 10 minutes, as the Bucs took a 34-22 lead just past the midway point of the first half. The defense had CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh concerned at halftime.
"We were sluggish in the first half," Radebaugh said after the game. "We did not play well defensively and got lost (on defense) a lot. I compliment our guys the way they played in the second half. They came out and we were much better defensively and very alert. We know we can score, but we have to play better defensively."
Hiwasse shot 61 percent in the first half, but still trailed by 12 at the break, 55-43. CSU shot 58 percent in the opening half and got open three after layup on the offensive end, which wore on the Tigers in the second half.
So did the Bucs front line. Bucs forward Paul Gombwer had a game-high 12 rebounds and 12 points for a double-double, and junior forward Allie Fulah added eight as CSU had a 26-5 advantage in second-chance points.
Ultimately, the Bucs were better across the board than the Tigers, outrebounding their opponent, 52-22, and grabbing almost nearly as many offensive rebounds (20) as Hiwasse had overall.
"Counting our exhibitions, we've outrebounded five-straight opponents," Radebaugh pointed out. "We're getting the job done there, but we have to work on improving defensively."
CSU offense more than made up for its lackluster defensive effort against the Tigers. Despite losing Saah Nimley for most of the first half with two fouls, five Bucs scored in double-figures for the game and CSU had 55 points at the break.
The Bucs' Jeremy Sexton led all scorers with 16 points, connecting on a trio of three-pointers and 5-of-6 at the line. Forward Mathiang Muo made the most of a night of good looks on the perimeter, knocking down 4-of-8 three-point attempts and finishing with 15 points.
The Bucs shot 49 percent from the floor (33-of-68) and made a season-high 12 three-pointers.
However, the Bucs head into one of the toughest stretches of their schedule beginning Tuesday. CSU hosts East Tennessee State on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., follow by a trip to Alabama on Nov. 23 and a home date with College of Charleston on Nov. 28.
Radebaugh knows his team must improve in practice over the weekend.
"We're going to be tested," Radebaugh said. "The next three games will test us for sure. Three big time opponents and three very good teams. We knew when we made this schedule that five of our first six would be against very good opponents."
ETSU visits on Tuesday night and had made a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances in the last half decade. It is also Radebaugh's alma mater.
"It's a big game for our total season," Radebaugh said. "Its not a conference game, but its like a conference game. We had a good crowd tonight and we need (the Buc Dome) to be rocking off its foundation on Tuesday."
CSU went without a field goal for almost three minutes, but wasn't short on scoring opportunities. The Bucs went to the free throw line on their first three possessions to stay with the Tigers, who had a hot hand early.
Hiwassee connected on 6-of-8 of its first eight field goal attempts, but couldn't build an early lead.
A put back layup by Allie Fullah gave CSU its first basket at the 17:42 mark of the first half to tie the game at 7-7. Forwards Mathiang Muo and Paul Gombwer nailed back-to-back threes to
Gomber connected on his second three to give the Bucs an 18-15 lead at the 14:20 mark, and CSU would keep it for good. Following a Tigers miss, Nimey flipped a full court pass ahead to Bowen for a layup and the Bucs moved ahead, 20-15.
Sheldon Strickland added the Bucs fourth three pointer of the first seven minutes to extend the lead to 23-17 at the 13-minute mark.
CSU opened the game 8-of-12 from the floor, knocking down four threes and finishing on their opportunities at point-blank range.
The Tigers would cut the CSU lead to 27-22 with 10:39 still left in the first half, but a 7-0 run by the Bucs, highlighted by another Muo three and transition layup by Bowen pushed the lead to 34-22 in just over a minute.
Things slowed down for the Bucs when Nimley picked up his second foul with 11 minutes left to play in the half. CSU didn't extend its lead any with Nimley on the bench.
The Tigers would not go away down the stretch in the first half, shooting 63 percent from the floor (15-of-24) to keep pace at 50-39 with three minutes left in the half.
Muo added his third three of the half on with just over a minute to play to extend the lead back to 10 at 53-43. A late layup by Gombwer gave the Bucs a 12-point halftime advantage.
CSU asserted itself out of the locker room.
A quick three by Muo answered the opening bucket by the Tigers. Sexton poured in five quick points a minute later as CSU built its lead to 17 and began to pull away.
A Fullah dunk at the pushed the Bucs lead to 25 off a 17-4 run to open the half.
Nimley finally found his scoring touch at the 12:30 mark, knocking down his first field goal, a three to push the lead to 26. Sexton would steal the inbounds pass and Bowen would get the layup as the lead climb to 28.
Junior Joe Williams, who redshirted last season, saw his first career action in the game, scoring his first bucket on a one-handed tomahawk dunk off a feed by Nimley at the 7:30 mark.
Sophomore forward Cedrick Bowen added 13 points, while Strickland chipped in 10 to round out the five Bucs in double figures. In all, 12 Buccaneers scored in the game.
Rico Stanley led Hiwasse with 14 points, while Joel Bailey and Justin Browner each had 12.
The Bucs return home to host ETSU, also the Bucs and Radebaugh's alma mater on Tuesday night. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m. in the Buc Dome.