With its Big South Conference title hopes hanging in the balance, Charleston Southern was at its best on Saturday. The Buccaneers put together a 21-6 run in the final 10 minutes to seize control in a 73-65 win over UNC Asheville on Saturday afternoon at Kimmel Arena.
The win gives the Bucs a half-game lead in the South Division. CSU plays three of its final four Big South games at the Buc Dome, beginning with two midweek games this week.
"Really a gutsy win by our guys," CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh said following the game. "I'm proud of it after playing so poorly against Winthrop, and I'm tickled for our guys. However, we don't have time to celebrate. We have to get home and get ready to play Tuesday night (Presbyterian)."
Sophomore guards Arlon Harper and Saah Nimley combined for 35 points, 14 rebounds, and 13 assists to lead the Bucs, but it was a team effort to answer an Asheville rally – mostly Trent Meyer – that stood out.
Six Bucs scored over the final run as the Bucs upped the pressure on the defensive end and started to knock down shots from all over the floor to put together one of their best stretches of the season.
"Sharing the ball, we just shared the ball," Radebaugh added of his team's finish to the win. "We had 17 assists, our turnovers were down, and we moved the ball and tried to attack from all over the court."
The win gives CSU a season sweep of Asheville and leaves the Bucs tied with High Point as the only three-loss teams remaining in Big South play.
"This is a good win because UNC Asheville is a very good program," Radebaugh added. "They gave us a good shot in the second half, and we answered. We're learning, we're a work in process. We never claimed to be the preseason favorite. We just claimed we would have an opportunity to do those things if we worked hard enough."
The Buccaneer players also knew what was at stake on Saturday.
"Our goal is to win the regular season and the Big South Tournament," Harper said after the win. "To come here today and get a win on the road with first-place on the line is big for us."
After grinding to a small lead for 25 minutes, things turned against the Bucs during a four-minute stretch where Asheville seized all the momentum.
Meyer knocked down five perimeter jumpers, including a trio of threes, as Asheville made a six-point CSU lead evaporate by scoring 17 points in just under four minutes. He finished with seven three-pointers and a game-high 27 points, but didn't score in the final 10 minutes as Nimley moved over to guard him.
The Bulldogs took a 54-51 lead on a free throw from Keith Hornsby with 9:59 to play, but CSU answered, seemingly finding their high gear that drove the Bucs to eight-straight wins in January.
Senior Jeremy Sexton knotted the game at 54-54 with a three on the ensuing possession. The Bucs would score on six of their next eight possessions to take a 67-58 lead. Forward Cedrick Bowen hammered home a dunk off of a Nimley feed to give the Bucs the lead at 57-56.
Senior Mathiang Muo, who had eight points down the stretch, added his second three-pointer of the night and Nimley found Allie Fullah roaming the baseline for another dunk as CSU took a two-possession lead.
Sexton followed with his second three of the game, he had both in the final 10 minutes to give CSU a 65-58 lead with 6:08 to remain.
Harper, Nimley, and the defense did the rest. Harper hit a runner with the shot clock winding down to extend the lead to nine points, then came up with a steal, diving on the floor for a loose ball to give the Bucs the ball with a nine-point lead and under three minutes left.
The Bulldogs would cut the lead to seven on a pair of free throws at 67-60. ON the next possession, Nimley came up with his own loose ball against the Bulldogs trapping defense and flipped it to Paul Gombwer for an easy layup and icing the win.
CSU nursed a small lead for much of the low-scoring first half. The Bucs took an 18-17 lead on a layup by Arlon Harper with just over four minutes to play to spark a run.
CSU would put together an 11-3 run to turn a one-point deficit into a 27-20 advantage. Back-to-back three pointers by Saah Nimley and Mathiang Muo fueled the run as the Bucs took control in the final minutes before the half.
Asheville would close the half with a 5-0 run in the final 50 seconds of the period to cut the Bucs' lead to 29-27 at the break, including a loose ball foul called with 0.2 seconds remain in the half which led to a pair of D.J. Cunningham free throws with essentially no time remaining.
The Bucs won the battle of the boards, out rebounding Asheville, 44-35. CSU also knocked down 10-of-26 three-point field goals.
Nimley led the Bucs with 18 points, while Harper had 17. Both had seven rebounds and Harper had seven assists, edging Nimley (six) for game-high honors. Muo finished with 11 points, while Gombwer added 10 rebounds.
CSU shot 46.8 percent from the floor, while holding UNC Asheville to 37.9 percent shooting.
Forward Jeremy Atkinson had 15 points and Hornsby added 10 for the Bulldogs.
CSU returns home with two midweek home games. The Bucs host Presbyterian on Tuesday, and VMI on Thursday, as part of a doubleheader. Both games tip at 7:30 p.m. in the Buc Dome.