Charleston Southern was not the typical easy opener for the 12th-ranked Arizona Wildcats, battling deep into the game before falling late, 82-73, in Tucson, Ariz.
CSU led the game for most of the first half but never led in the final 20 minutes, though the Arizona lead was never more than eight points until the final three minutes.
Sophomore guard Arlon Harper led all scorers with 20 points for the Buccaneers, while forward Mathiang Muo added 16 points and seven rebounds. Sophomore point guard Saah Nimley scored 11 points with eight boards and seven assists.
Charleston Southern shot 44 percent from the field, a marked improvement over a 29 percent effort in Friday’s season-opening 68-58 loss to Charlotte. The Buccaneers outrebounded the much bigger Wildcats, 34-31.
Mark Lyons led five Arizona players in double figures with 17 points, while Solomon Hill added 14. The Wildcats shot 45 percent from the field and made 11 3-pointers in the game.
“Our first goal was to win, but our second goal was to show improvement and I thought we did that tonight,” said CSU coach Barclay Radebaugh. “We can never be pleased with a loss, but we can be pleased and encouraged by improvement. I thought our guys battled and fought hard. Arizona is a quality basketball team. They are extremely hard to guard and they’re well-coached.”
The Bucs led for more than 17 minutes of the first half, taking an early 11-3 lead as Harper scored four of his 11 first-half points in the first four minutes.
Arizona did not lead until a 7-0 run gave the Wildcats a 26-25 lead with 4:59 to play. After falling behind, 29-25, CSU put together a 12-5 run to grab a 37-34 lead with under two minutes remaining.
Arizona closed the half, however, on a 9-2 run to take a 43-39 halftime advantage.
A 3-pointer from Muo with 11:14 left cut Arizona’s lead to 53-52, and the margin was only five with 4:50 to play on a basket by Nimley. The Wildcats would open up their largest lead of the game at 80-66 with 1:59 to play.
CSU hosts Hiwassee in its home opener Thursday night.
“Again, it’s all about us improving, and I will be very disappointed if we don’t improve over these next two practices and on Thursday night,” Radebaugh said.