Saah Nimley scored 24 points and buried a tough step back jumper late as Charleston Southern held off Delaware for a wild 95-93 win on Sunday at the Bob Carpenter Center.
Nimley's contested 18-footer gave the Bucs a 95-89 advantage with 1:06 remaining, but Delaware answered back as four Devon Saddler free throws trimmed the deficit to two with 15 seconds left.
CSU's Will Saunders missed two free throws to give the Blue Hens an opportunity to tie or win, but Saunders blocked a Jarvis Threatt runner with four seconds left to seal the victory.
The Bucs put on an offensive exhibition in the first half for a second straight game, shooting 67 percent overall and 10-of-16 from three-point range. CSU (2-0) hit 19 of its first 24 shots and started 10-of-12 from deep to build a 44-22 lead. Radebaugh's group was then able to rally back from a late 80-77 hole and overcome 59 combined points from Delaware (0-2) guards Davon Usher (30 points) and Devon Saddler (29 points).
"It was a great win for us," Radebaugh said. "The way they battled, to be up big and then have to come back like that, is just terrific. That's a really good team. That's an NCAA Tournament (caliber) team. They're really good. The toughness of our guys, the confidence that they carry, the way they handle themselves, is impressive."
Nimley added seven rebounds and six assists to pace an effort which saw the Bucs place six players in double figures. Senior Matt Kennedy tallied a career-high 14 points, while Cedrick Bowen, Saunders, Sheldon Strickland and Arlon Harper all reached double digits as well.
Harper came up with some big defensive plays late, finishing with ten points and five steals in his season debut after sitting out the opener due to injury.
"Coach, he preaches finish," Harper said after matching a career high with five steals. "The first half, we got out storming. Delaware's a great team and we knew they'd come back. We just had to dig deep and finish. That was our motto all preseason long and today we did it."
CSU knew it would be tested against a Delaware squad that won 19 games and finished second in the CAA last season, and the backcourt of Usher and Saddler proved to be tough to handle. Saddler gave Delaware its first lead since the 12:57 mark of the first half when he converted an old-fashioned three-point play with 8:53 remaining.
The Blue Hens still led 80-77 with 7:55 left after two Threatt free throws, but the Bucs scored six straight points and never trailed again. Free throws from Alhaji Fullah and Saunders tied the score at 80, before Harper swished a clutch trey for an 83-80 advantage at the 5:54 mark.
Strickland was the next man to step up for CSU after Carl Baptiste's dunk brought Delaware within one. He penetrated for a pretty right-handed scoop shot on one possession, and then nailed a left wing three to break the fifth and final tie of the contest and give CSU an 88-85 advantage with 5:00 left.
CSU's guard play was outstanding once again, as Nimley, Harper, Kennedy and Strickland combined for 58 points on 22-of-49 shooting, highlighted by a 9-of-18 clip from beyond the arc.
"Our four guards are as good as it gets at our level," Radebaugh said. "There's one better or two better individually but as a group, they're excellent. Strick was tough. Matt was tough. Saah and Arlon are maybe the best two players in our league and they just making winning plays at big times."
Delaware jumped out to an 18-13 lead only to see a Kennedy pull-up jumper jumpstart a 28-2 spanning 6:36 of the first half. The Bucs scored the first 11 of the spurt consecutively, with a Harper steal and fast break dunk giving them their first lead of the afternoon.
Six different players scored during the surge, as Harper, Kennedy and Saunders hit three straight triples at one point to push the CSU advantage to double digits. Nimley capped the key stretch with two straight threes, and then drew a foul on another and connected on all three free throws to give the Bucs a 44-22 lead with 6:40 left until halftime.
Led by 16 first half points and 7-of-9 shooting from Saddler – the second active career leading scorer in Division I with 1,699 points – the Blue Hens crawled back within eleven late in the stanza before Strickland beat the buzzer with a short jumper off an offensive rebound by Saunders.
"It gives us a lot of confidence and shows us that we're able to be resilient early in the season," said Nimley of the victory. "Being able to be resilient this early in the season with a couple new players, a new starting lineup and still building some chemistry is huge. It shows we're on our way to being a good team."
Radebaugh echoed the sentiment of his All-Big South Conference point guard.
"I wanted these games," Radebaugh said. "We looked for people who would play us and we wanted tough teams who would play us. I want to put our team in tough environments because that's the only way we're going to take that next step. Today really, really helped us. To be able to compete and win against a high quality Colonial Athletic Association on the road says a lot about our team."
CSU returns home to take on UNC Wilmington on Wednesday. Tipoff between the Bucs and Seahawks is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.