CSU drops Big South opener

Photo provided by Charleston Southern Charleston Southern senior Saah Nimley drives for two of his game-high 26 points in Saturday's 83-74 loss to Coastal Carolina.

In what has become the norm in the series of late, Charleston Southern and Coastal Carolina went down to the wire in Saturday afternoon's Big South Conference contest at the HTC arena in Conway.

Coastal Carolina, the preseason pick to win the league championship, used a 6-0 spurt in the final minutes to take a seven-point lead and hit crucial free throws in the final minute to hold on for an 83-74 win over the Buccaneers.

Last season, Coastal (11-3, 2-0) beat CSU twice in six days on its home floor, winning the regular season finale by two points and taking a Big South tournament quarterfinal game in double overtime. Coastal Carolina has won six of the last eight matchups with CSU (6-6, 0-1).

"It was a very close, competitive basketball game played between two good teams," said CSU coach Barclay Radebaugh. "I thought we played with great passion and energy, and we gave ourselves a chance to win the game. We were literally one or two plays away from walking away with a big road win, but Coastal Carolina made just a few more plays. If we can play the rest of our conference season with as much energy as we did today, we will win our share of games."

Charleston Southern senior point guard Saah Nimley led all scorers with 24 points, his 26th career game with at least 20 points. Will Saunders scored 14 points, including four 3-pointers, Aaron Wheeler added 12 and Cedrick Bowen scored 11 points for the Buccaneers.

Warren Gillis led a balanced effort for Coastal Carolina with 18 points, 12 coming in the second half. Josh Cameron added 17 points, 14 in the first half. Badou Diagne scored 14 points and hauled in 10 rebounds, and Elijah Wilson added 13 points.

The game featured six ties and six lead changes, but Coastal Carolina led for all but a minute of the second half.

The first half was the Nimley vs. Cameron show as two of the league's best guards took turns lighting up the scoreboard. Each player connected on four 3-pointers in the first half with Nimley finishing with 18 points and Cameron scoring 14.

Nimley scored eight straight points during one stretch, tying the game at 15 with a 3-pointer. CSU took its first lead of the half at 22-20 on Nimley's third trey of the half with 8:30 remaining.

CSU stretched its lead to 30-24 with 5:31 left in the half, but Cameron later hit back-to-back 3s to give Coastal Carolina a 36-34 lead with 1:10 left.

Bowen's rebound and dunk tied the game at 36 as the two teams entered the break.

The second half was more of the same as the teams traded the lead throughout the first 10 minutes of the half. Coastal Carolina connected on four of its first five shots to open the half and led, 46-41, before a 6-0 run gave CSU a 47-46 advantage with 13:19 to play. It would be CSU's last lead of the contest.

The Chanticleers again answered, using an 8-2 run, including another 3-pointer by Cameron, to take a 54-49 lead midway through the half.

Saunders' long 3-pointer cut Coastal's lead to 59-58 with 6:23 left in the game. Two free throws from Nimley with 4:03 remaining made the score, 63-62, Coastal Carolina.

From there, the Chanticleers scored six unanswered points over a two-minute span to give Coastal Carolina a 69-62 lead with 2:10 remaining.

Saunders hit his fourth trey with 1:54 to play to trim the margin to 69-65. A basket and free throw by Wheeler cut the lead to 73-69 with 1:04 to play, but Coastal Carolina held off the charge with free throws to post the win.

Coastal Carolina made 17 of 20 free throw attempts, including 16 of 18 in the second half, while CSU converted 21 of 26 opportunities, their best effort of the season from the line.

Charleston Southern will host Campbell in its Big South home opener on Monday night.