Bigger prize awaits

CSU coach Barclay Radebaugh (left), Mathiang Muo and the Bucs face Winthrop today at noon in the Big South tournament in Conway.

In a wild post-game celebration after clinching the Big South Conference regular season title, Charleston Southern’s basketball team opted not to cut down the nets.

While the celebration was festive, complete with a cooler of ice water dumped on coach Barclay Radebaugh, it was clear this team has bigger goals in mind.

“This is a great feeling tonight but I can only imagine what it would feel like to win the conference tournament,” sophomore guard Arlon Harper said after the Bucs’ 75-64 victory over Coastal Carolina on Saturday. “This is one step, one goal. We were picked to win the South Division and we wanted to uphold that expectation. But every player on this team is focused on winning the tournament. We will forget this day quickly and move on to next week.”

Next week has arrived for the Buccaneers.

Today they take on Winthrop at noon in the quarterfinals of the Big South tournament at The HTC Arena in Conway.

The Bucs hope to be playing Sunday in the tournament championship game with an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament at stake. CSU’s first and only postseason tournament appearance came in the 1997 NCAA tournament, a 109-75 loss to UCLA.

As the conference’s regular season champion, CSU is already assured a spot in the National Invitation Tournament.

Charleston Southern split a pair of games with the Eagles this season, winning at home and losing in Rock Hill. Winthrop beat Radford, 60-58, in overtime Tuesday in the first round of the tournament.

If the CSU players needed any help focusing on the tournament, the first-round games on Tuesday should have done the trick. Two of the tournament favorites — UNC Asheville and host Coastal Carolina — were eliminated.

Asheville had won the last two conference tournaments and Coastal Carolina won three years ago.

Radebaugh said his team will be prepared mentally to play.

“This team never changes in its approach,” said the coach. “They have been ready to play every game this year except one. They are never too high or never too low. It really is amazing how even-keel they have been all season.”

Charleston Southern (17-11) played in HTC Arena once this season, a forgettable performance for the Bucs in a 20-point loss to Coastal Carolina.

The Buccaneers have had shooting struggles on the road and rely heavily on the perimeter game to score.

Harper, along with sophomore point guard Saah Nimley, combine for nearly 31 points per game. Nimley, a first-team all-conference selection, averages 16.7 points per game.

CSU has connected on 259 3-pointers this season. Nimley and seniors Jeremy Sexton and Mathiang Muo have each hit more than 50 3-pointers, while Harper has made 44 shots from beyond the arc.

“The last time we played there was not good, but I think it helped that we have played there in that setting,” Sexton said. “It should not be a factor really. When we execute, we can score points.

“We are a confident team and we will be confident on Thursday.”