In the biggest Big South Conference game to date this season, Charleston Southern and UNC Asheville battled for the top spot in the league’s South Division on Saturday afternoon. Only a half game separated the teams atop the standings, and CSU was seeking a season sweep of the series and the opportunity to take late control of the division.
Saah Nimley scored 18 points and Arlon Harper added 17 as the Buccaneers beat the Bulldogs, 73-65.
CSU (14-9) improved to 9-3 in the conference and regained the lead in the South Division with three of their final four conference games coming at home. It was Asheville’s second home loss this week after the Bulldogs (15-12, 9-4) had won 11 straight at home.
Asheville guard Trent Meyer scored a career-high 27 points to pace the Bulldogs, while Jeremy Atkinson added 15.
“When we share the basketball and execute, we are a very good offensive basketball team,” said CSU coach Barclay Radebaugh. “We had 17 assists. We limited the turnovers and we shot a lot better. I thought this was a real gutsy performance by our guys on the road in a big game against a very good team.”
Nimley added seven assists and seven rebounds in the win, while Harper had seven boards and six assists. Mathiang Muo scored 11 points and grabbed seven boards, while Paul Gombwer had 10 rebounds.
CSU outrebounded the Bulldogs, 44-35, and shot 47 percent from the floor. The Bucs made 10 3-pointers after a 3-for-27 performance from beyond the arc in Wednesday’s loss at Winthrop.
Two of the highest-scoring teams in the league struggled early on, combining for only 20 points (10-10) through the first 11 minutes of the game. CSU shot only 27 percent during that span while the Bulldogs managed only 22 percent shooting.
On cue, both teams got hot at the same time. CSU outscored the Bulldogs, 19-17, over the final eight minutes of the half to take a 29-27 lead at the break.
The shooting and execution improved dramatically in the second half. Asheville opened the second half with Hornsby scoring five straight points to give UNCA a 32-29 lead. CSU answered with a 9-0 run and grabbed a 38-32 lead with 16:30 left in the game.
Trailing 42-36 with 14:30 remaining, Asheville went to Meyer, who connected on four consecutive 3-pointers to give the Bulldogs a 50-48 lead with 11:21 remaining. Meyer finished with seven 3s.
Asheville opened up its largest lead at 55-51 with less than 10 minutes remaining, but again the Bucs rallied, taking a 58-57 lead on Cedric Bowen’s dunk with 8:15 left in the game.
Muo and Jeremy Sexton each hit 3-pointer and Allie Fullah had a dunk to give CSU a 66-59 lead with six minutes remaining. Harper added a jumper for a 68-59 lead with 3:30 to go.
CSU returns home this week for two conference games, first with Presbyterian on Tuesday.
“This is a good win for us, but it means nothing if we don’t play well on Tuesday,” said Radebaugh. “With four conference games remaining, obviously every game is important.”