If Thursday night’s Big South Conference opener is in some way a preview of things to come for the Charleston Southern men’s basketball team, expect the Buccaneers to be a contender for the league title in late February.
Granted, the 89-75 win over visiting USC Upstate is but one game, but the win was CSU’s sixth in their last seven outings after a horrendous 1-5 start.
And, even better news for coach Barclay Radebaugh is the apparent return to big-time status for junior wing Phlandrous Fleming, who led CSU with a 25-point scoring effort on Thursday. Fleming, who played injured last year, has scored 65 points in the last three games.
“He was a major factor tonight,” Radebaugh said of Fleming. “He’s one of the best players in our league. When you know his story, what he’s been through medically, and to see him get himself back, it’s really a blessing. He had surgery and missed the entire summer. But he has worked so hard to get back to the player he was a freshman. The reason he is improving is because he remains positive and he’s so coachable.”
Fleming, a member of the Big South all-freshman team two years ago, missed the first half of last season with a knee issue and his production suffered. He feels as good now as he has since his freshman year.
“It has been hard, no doubt,” said Fleming, who reached double figures for a seventh straight game. “Tonight felt really good. The ball felt good coming off my hand. I’ve been in the gym and have put in a lot of work. It’s the best I have felt in a long time, 100 percent. It felt good to be able to hit some shots and help us win a big game.”
Sophomore guard Dontrell Shuler, CSU’s leading scorer at 18 points per game, added 19 points in Thursday’s win. Junior guard Deontaye Buskey added 13 points as CSU shot 53.6 percent from the field for the game.
The Bucs shot 56 percent in the opening half, taking a 44-35 lead into the break. After falling behind 4-0 early, CSU never trailed the rest of the game. CSU’s biggest lead of the night, a 21-point advantage, came with 4:44 remaining in the contest.
“Very thankful for tonight’s win,” Radebaugh said. “We are on schedule and we just want to get better from this game. We continue to improve and continue to gain confidence. I don’t think we are close to our ceiling. We have 17 tough ones to go.”
Everett Hammond led the Spartans (5-9, 0-1) with 19 points while Tommy Bruner added 17. The Spartans shot 49 percent for the game, including 54 percent in the second half.
CSU hits the road for a Saturday game at Hampton University before returning for two home conference games next week.