In its final tuneup Monday before the start of Big South play, Charleston Southern had no trouble dispatching an undermanned squad from Columbia International University, a team playing its first season of basketball.
The Buccaneers never trailed in the contest and won easily, 105-45.
Charleston Southern (6-7) will open Big South action on Wednesday at home against Coastal Carolina as it seeks to repeat as regular season champion. The focus on Monday night was making sure the team stayed healthy and sharp. Mission accomplished.
"I thought we played OK and took care of business, but we didn't play with the type of energy and enthusiasm that we had been playing with," said CSU coach Barclay Radebaugh. "Conference play starts on Wednesday, and certainly our minds have been focused on that for a while now."
The Buccaneers (6-7) led the entire game against Columbia International, grabbing a commanding 54-17 lead by halftime. Junior sharpshooter Will Saunders scored 23 points, connecting on 6 of 9 shots from beyond the arc. Saunders, the top 3-point shooter in the Big South, improved his season average to 47.5 percent from long range.
Freshman Bakari Copeland scored 17 points off the bench while sophomore Malcolm Bernard added 12 points and nine rebounds off the bench. Another freshman, forward Ty'Quan Biting, pulled down a career-high nine boards to go with his eight points.
Charleston Southern outrebounded the smaller Rams, 55-31, and limited CIU to 25.9 percent shooting.
Junior forward Paul Gombwer posted a double-double by halftime, scoring 11 points and personally outrebounding the Rams, 12-10. Saunders connected on six 3-pointers in the first half and finished the half with 21 points.
"We knew going in that our starters would not be playing in the second half, but we have compensated for that by scrimmaging in practice," said Radebaugh.
Radebaugh went exclusively with the bench in the second half. CSU's starting five accounted for only 27 points in the game. That will not be the case on Wednesday, and junior guard Arlon Harper said he and his teammates understand how important the conference opener is in regards to setting the tone for the rest of the season.
"No doubt, Wednesday is a huge game for us," Harper said. "We never overlook any opponent, so tonight our focus was on CIU, but we all know what Wednesday means. We get our biggest conference rival on our home floor in the first conference game. It's going to be a fun atmosphere and I know the entire team is ready for conference play."
Three of CSU's first four Big South games will be at home, and Radebaugh knows the importance of getting off to a good start in league play.
"I have noticed a difference in our practices of late because I think this team realizes the importance of the conference season," said Radebaugh. "They have worked very hard. Once we got done with Florida State (last Monday), we turned our focus to conference play. We are looking forward to the challenge. We'll be ready and I'm sure Coastal Carolina will be ready as well. It's two good teams in our conference on opening night."
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