RADFORD, VA. — Charleston Southern men’s basketball coach Barclay Radebaugh knew that Saturday’s conference opener against an improved Radford squad would be a battle.
Radford won only two league games a year ago, but Radebaugh saw enough on film to know his team was in for a struggle. The coach was right.
Charleston Southern fell behind by nine points early, rallied to take a lead late in the first half, and held on for an 81-74 win.
Sophomore point guard Saah Nimley scored 20 points and dished out 11 assists to lead five players in double figures for the Buccaneers (6-6). It was Nimley’s third consecutive game with at least 20 points.
Senior forward Mathiang Muo had 15 points (on five 3-pointers) and a career-high 15 rebounds, and senior guard Jeremy Sexton had 14 points, connecting on four 3-pointers. Junior center Allie Fullah and sophomore guard Arlon Harper each scored 10 points
Charleston Southern connected on 14 of 26 shots from beyond the arc and shot 44 percent from the floor for the game. The Bucs were outrebounded for only the third time this season, losing the battle on the boards, 44-41. CSU converted 13 of 16 opportunities from the free-throw line.
“This is a really gratifying win, a really hard-fought battle with a team that is getting better and better each time they play,” Radebaugh said. “It’s a good win for us, to open the conference with a win. It was a real struggle all game long. We were searching all game long to find a group that could get locked in defensively. It certainly was not our best game, but in this league, you take all the wins you can get.”
Turnovers were a problem early for the Bucs, who committed nine in the first 10 minutes of the game. CSU trailed, 29-20, with 6:47 to play in the first half but took better care of the ball and got hot from the field.
Nimley connected on a pair of 3-pointers during a 20-3 run to give CSU a 40-32 lead at the half. The Bucs had one turnover over the final seven minutes of the half.
After CSU took a 42-32 lead early in the second half, Radford went on a 15-6 run to close the margin to 48-47. The Highlanders, however, were never able to grab the lead as Harper scored five straight points for a 53-47 advantage.
The teams traded baskets throughout the second half. Nimley’s basket with 5:02 left gave CSU a 72-65 lead, but a tip-in by R.J. Price closed the margin to 72-69 with 4:15 remaining. Price led Radford in scoring with 19 points.
Muo’s fifth 3-pointer gave the Bucs a 75-69 lead with three minutes left. Price nailed a long 3-pointer with one minute left, cutting the Charleston Southern lead to 75-72.
Fullah’s layup off a pass from Nimley with 32 seconds left gave CSU a 77-72 lead, Radford scored on a layup with 24 seconds remaining, trimming the margin to three.
Nimley, however, converted four free throws in the final 15 seconds, finishing 8 of 10 from the line for the game to seal the win.
Charleston Southern will host Winthrop on Wednesday night. The Eagles opened Big South play with a loss to High Point on Saturday.