Starting with a statement – CSU tops Coastal Carolina, 70-58, in Big South opener
CHARLESTON, SC -
Charleston Southern connected on ten first half three-pointers to build an 18-point halftime lead and never looked back in a 70-58 win over Coastal Carolina in its Big South Conference opener at the Buc Dome on Wednesday night.
CSU (7-7, 1-0) looked the part of the defending Big South regular season champion. The Bucs held the Chanticleers to 39 percent shooting and out-rebounded (38-33) a CCU (7-8, 0-1) team that entered second in the conference with a +6.1 rebounding margin. Juniors Will Saunders and Arlon Harper led the way with three first half threes apiece as the Bucs shot 56 percent from the floor and knocked down 10-of-19 from beyond the arc to go into intermission up 45-27.
Saunders finished with 16 points to pace four players in double figures scoring for CSU. Saah Nimley recovered from a slow shooting start to record 15 points and six assists. Harper tallied 14 and senior Matt Kennedy added 12. CCU was led by 11 points from junior guard Josh Cameron, but struggled all night long against the Bucs' defense.
"We were pretty good offensively in the first half," said CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh after leading the Bucs to their third straight win in a Big South opener. "Defensively, we were terrific and jumped out to a good lead. We didn't play quite as well in the second half, but credit Coastal Carolina."
"We knew we had to stay in front on defense and we did that," Radebaugh continued. "We knew that they are good drivers. They hit a few threes, but we did a good job of closing out on their shooters. We took some steps forward defensively tonight. We executed our game plan really well."
CSU reeled off a 12-2 run over the final 3:09 of the first half to pull away from Coastal. Fittingly, three of the four baskets during the stretch were three-pointers. Harper buried a triple to start the stretch, and Nimley sailed one through from deep on the left wing to push the lead to 39-27. Following a CCU turnover, Sheldon Strickland connected on another trey to increase the Bucs' advantage to 15. Nimley then added a jumper and a free throw to stake CSU to a 45-27 advantage.
The Bucs kept building on their lead early in the second half, as Kennedy swished a three from the corner and Nimley finished in transition off an Alhaji Fullah blocked shot to make it 50-29 at the 18:48 mark. Saunders drilled his fourth trey to stay perfect from deep moments later, pushing the margin to 53-31.
Coastal was never able to threaten with a legitimate rally, as CSU made up for 27 percent second half shooting by continuing to excel defensively itself. The Bucs limited the Chanticleers to 37.5 percent shooting in the second stanza, including a 0-for-7 mark from downtown. CCU finished only 3-of-16 from three for the contest.
Nimley provided two of the highlights of the later stages of the second half. He penetrated off a crossover dribble and found Fullah for an alley-oop dunk, and went coast to coast for a pretty left-handed scoop shot off a steal to swell the CSU advantage to 65-43 with 6:27 left. Two Kennedy free throws reinstated a 23-point lead with 3:15 remaining, before CCU made a late push to cut into the final margin.
Harper played the role of catalyst for CSU in the first half. He hit back-to-back threes early in the stanza to help CSU open up a 10-3 lead at the 15:48 mark.
Harper also came up with one of the highlight reel plays of the opening 20 minutes to give CSU a 26-16 lead. He stole a Cameron pass right in front of half court and saved the ball back into play in one motion. Nimley then picked up the loose ball and hit Saunders for a fast-break three to bring the sold out crowd to its feet. Harper would chip in a layup and another triple in CSU's last first half push as the Bucs cruised to victory.
"Overall, I thought he played terrific," Radebaugh said of Harper. "He is a warrior and a winner and has been a one since he's been here."
CSU now heads to Winthrop on Saturday afternoon for a 2 p.m. tilt in Rock Hill, S.C. The Eagles opened Big South play with a win over Presbyterian on Wednesday.
"All of them (conference games) are one-sixteenth of our schedule," Radebaugh said. "It is a big game for us because it is our next game. We have a lot of respect for Winthrop, for Coach (Pat) Kelsey and what he is doing there. That team is playing with a lot of enthusiasm and Coach Kelsey has brought that to that program. It will be a real challenge for us."
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