After Charleston Southern’s men’s basketball team won the South Division of the Big South Conference championship with a 75-64 win over Coastal Carolina on Saturday night, the court was set up for a net-cutting ceremony after a Big South representative presented the trophy.
Charleston Southern’s players, however, had other ideas. Seniors Mathiang Muo and Jeremy Sexton told head coach Barclay Radebaugh that the only nets they wanted to cut down would be at next weekend’s Big South Conference tournament.
“This is a goal, but not the goal,” Radebaugh said. “It was kind of a curveball for everyone, but it was their call and I totally respect that. Winning this game and winning the South Division title was certainly a goal for this team, but to a man, they have bigger goals and dreams.”
With the win and South title, CSU finishes the regular season tied with High Point for the league’s best record, but CSU earns the conference’s automatic bid to the National Invitation Tournament by virtue of its win over High Point earlier this season. A Big South tournament championship would mean a berth in the NCAA tournament.
Charleston Southern’s last Big South title of any kind was the regular season title of 1986-87 season. CSU won the Big South tournament in 1997, before losing to UCLA in the first-round of the NCAA tournament.
Muo led CSU in scoring on Saturday, hitting five 3-pointers to finish with 17 points. Sophomore guards Arlon Harper and Saah Nimley each scored 15 points, with Harper also connecting on five 3’s.
“As a kid, you always dream of playing in games like this and winning championships, so this is a really special moment for all of us,” said Harper. “We came out, got behind early, but we stuck together. We knew Coastal Carolina would bring it. We had to match their intensity.”
Charleston Southern won the way they have all season, especially at home, knocking down 15 3-pointers. The Buccaneers shot 45.2 percent from the field.
Coastal Carolina, led by senior guard Anthony Raffa’s 23 points, shot 48 percent from the field but managed only 3 of 16 shooting from 3-point range.
Things looked bleak for the Bucs early on as Coastal Carolina scored the first 11 points of the game, forcing Radebaugh to use an early timeout.
Muo ended the drought with a 3-pointer, and CSU commenced a run that saw them take a 15-14. CSU connected on eight 3-pointers in the first half and opened up a 38-30 halftime lead. Muo and Harper each scored nine in the opening half, all on 3-pointers.
Harper quickly pushed the lead to 41-30 with a 3-pointer early in the second half, and the Buccaneers led by double digits the rest of the way.
The win snapped a seven-game losing streak to Coastal Carolina and marked Sexton’s first win over the Chanticleers.
“It feels great to win this in front of our home fans, and beating Coastal Carolina is great because I never beat them as a player,” said the 6-1 guard from Chattanooga, Tenn. “We worked hard for this, but our work is not over. We are going to enjoy this tonight, but then our focus is on the (Big South) tournament. That’s the ultimate goal.”
Charleston Southern closes out the regular season with a 17-11 record overall and a 12-4 mark in Big South play.
For Radebaugh, now in his eighth season at CSU, the title is the culmination of a four-year climb from 13 wins, to 16 wins, to 19 wins, to a championship.
“This is for all those people who have been here for us and with us through this journey,” the coach said. “Our administration, our fans, our support staff — this belongs to all of them. It’s a special day for everyone and I’m so glad we could do it here at home. Our crowd tonight was incredible.”