Charleston Southern whittled a late ten-point deficit to three and had a Saah Nimley three-point attempt to tie the game with 14 seconds remaining, but could not get over the hump in a 69-64 loss to No. 20 Baylor on Wednesday night at the Ferrell Center.
The Bucs trailed by double figures several times in the second half, but kept responding against a Bears' squad picked third in the Big 12 behind only Kansas and Oklahoma State.
Down by ten with 2:01 left, CSU got a layup from Arlon Harper and two free throws and a clutch three from Will Saunders to close within 67-64 at the 54 second mark. The Bucs came up with a defensive stop and Nimley had a good look at a triple from the right wing that did not fall. Cedrick Bowen grabbed an offensive rebound and CSU had a second opportunity to tie and potentially force overtime, but Nimley stepped out of bounds and Baylor's Kenny Cherry hit two free throws to seal the victory.
"I thought our team competed hard and gave ourselves a chance to win and that's what you ask for on the road," CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh said. "It was a one possession game and we just have to keep working. One of these days we're going to get over the hump in one of these types of games."
CSU (2-3) was excellent defensively, limiting Baylor to 41.2 percent shooting and only 38.5 percent in the first half. The Bucs also excelled with the three-pointer yet again, connecting on 12-of-26 attempts from beyond the arc. Saunders led three players in double figures with 16 points, while senior Sheldon Strickland continued his hot shooting by hitting 4-of-5 from deep en route to 14 points. Junior point guard Saah Nimley chipped in 11.
Baylor (4-0) was led by 16 points and 11 rebounds from Cory Jefferson. Sophomore center Isaiah Austin, a potential first-round NBA Draft pick, had 16 points, eight rebounds and six blocked shots. Jefferson added three blocks, as the long and athletic tandem presented problems for the Bucs underneath.
"They're a very well-coached team and their length really bothered us," Radebaugh said. "They have really good players. I thought their game plan was terrific - to attack us inside and stay out on our shooters and to make us score over them was very difficult today. I thought we played much better in the second half, particularly in the last ten minutes. I thought we really competed a lot harder and really were a lot more efficient the last ten minutes."
CSU's stellar first half defense allowed it to stay within 32-28 at halftime despite shooting only 29 percent from the floor. Baylor quickly built its lead to 43-32 with 16:03 remaining but Strickland provided the spark to keep CSU in the ballgame. He connected on a pair of treys and scored on a pretty drive to the basket to bring the Bucs within six with 11:56 left.
The Bears again pushed their advantage to 11 at 57-46 only to see the Bucs answer with a 9-2 run culminating in a Saunders layup off a backdoor feed from Nimley with 6:36 remaining. CSU had two chances to make it a one possession game, but Paul Gombwer had a three-pointer go in and out and Nimley had a triple blocked as Baylor took control back before the Bucs' late surge.
Baylor jumped out to an 8-0 lead and held CSU scoreless until Bowen took a bounce pass from Harper and threw down a two-handed dunk 3:43 into the contest. Bowen's slam jumpstarted a 13-1 run for the Bucs, as Saunders hit one three while Strickland buried two in a row from nearly the same spot to force Baylor head coach Scott Drew to call timeout.
The Bears then held the Bucs scoreless for nearly four minutes to counter with an 8-0 run and take the lead for good. Freshman Ty'Quan Bitting came off the bench late in the stanza to help CSU crawl back into within three, tipping in a Strickland miss before an Austin free throw provided the final point of the half.
"We got better," Radebaugh said of a grueling two-game road trip that saw the Bucs take on two straight Top-25 opponents. "These two games really challenged us and tonight certainly did. We had an open Saah Nimley three to tie the game and I'll take that anytime. I liked the way we played the last ten minutes – the way we fought, the way we executed late in the game, was outstanding."
CSU is next in action on Tuesday, November 26, when it hosts Trinity (Fla.). Tipoff at the Buc Dome is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.