As instant classics go, Saturday’s Big South Conference regular season finale between Charleston Southern and High Point will go down as one of the best ever.
Charleston Southern needed three gut-wrenching overtime periods and a remarkable performance from senior point guard Saah Nimley to claim its second regular season title in three years with a 97-93 victory over the Panthers before one of the biggest home crowds in CSU history.
Nimley seemingly secured the honor as Big South Player of the Year by scoring 36 of his game-high 38 points after halftime, including all eight of his 3-pointers. Nimley’s performance was his seventh 30-point scoring effort of the season and was one point shy of his career high.
CSU finished the regular season at 19-10 overall and 13-5 in the Big South. The Bucs closed the conference schedule winning five of their last six games to earn the top seed in next week’s conference tournament.
The Bucs also secured an automatic postseason bid to the NIT should they not win the league’s tournament.
“I was on the staff at South Carolina when we won the SEC title and I was on the bench at Winthrop when we won the Big South tournament,” said CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh. “This game tonight was the most unbelievable game I have ever witnessed. What an incredible effort by our basketball team. They (High Point) had it won twice, at least twice, but our team would never quit. This is beyond what I can describe with words.”
CSU set a school record with 19 3-pointers in the game with 16 coming in the second half and overtimes. Adding to Nimley’s performance were fellow seniors Arlon Harper (20 points, six assists), Will Saunders (15 points, 10 rebounds) and Cedrick Bowen (11 points, six rebounds).
Junior small forward Aaron Wheeler added 10 points and 14 rebounds, including 10 offensive boards as CSU held an 18-8 edge on the offensive glass. The Bucs won despite a subpar effort at the free throw line, making only 10 of 22 freebies. Nimley converted all eight of his attempts.
“We have the best player in the league (Nimley) and we have a great group of seniors,” said Radebaugh. “I wanted this so bad for our seniors. I didn’t want to lose today and go into the tournament without any momentum. It’s an amazing group of five men.”
Charleston Southern trailed for most of the first half, appearing to play tight due to an emotional pre-game ceremony for CSU’s five seniors. The Bucs rallied from a 13-point deficit to trail, 34-28, at halftime.
“We were tight. I was tight and I’m never tight,” said Radebaugh. “All of the emotion really affected us early, but I told the guys at halftime that we were right there. We played much more settled in the second half.”
The Panthers again opened up a double-digit lead at 42-31 with 17:39 before the Bucs rallied. Wheeler gave CSU a 51-50 lead and the two teams went toe-to-toe for the final 10 minutes. Charleston Southern held a 64-59 lead with 3:57 to play, but High Point rallied to send the game to overtime on a pair of John Brown free throws with 0.5 seconds left on the regulation clock. Brown, the reigning Big South Player of the Year, finished with 27 points.
The teams each scored five points in the first overtime with Nimley forcing a second extra period with two free throws with 37 seconds left.
Trailing, 83-80, in the second overtime, Harper hit a 3 from 28 feet out with 14 seconds left to tie the game at 83.
Nimley’s layup with 1:12 left gave CSU a 93-91 lead in the third OT. Nimley sealed the win with four consecutive free throws in the final 14 seconds.
CSU will next move into the Big South tournament on Friday and will play a first-round game at noon against the winner of Wednesday’s Presbyterian/Longwood game
“We need a break, a really good mental and physical break,” said Radebaugh. “Saah can’t even walk right now. Our guys are spent. But this will be a day and a game they will never forget. I’ll never forget it, that’s for sure.”