Championship teams find a way to overcome adversity. If the Charleston Southern men's basketball team hopes to make a run at the Big South Conference championship this season, they will have to do so under a heavy load of adversity.
Charleston Southern (9-10, 3-3 in Big South) plays at league foe Campbell (10-11, 4-2) on Wednesday night, with at least half its starting backcourt unavailable and the other half questionable. Junior shooting guard Arlon Harper will be out indefinitely with an injured ankle while junior point guard Saah Nimley is listed as day-to-day. Both first-team all-conference candidates were injured in Saturday's 88-85 loss to Longwood.
Harper, who averages 11.6 points per game, injured his ankle late in the first half of Saturday's game. The injury was to the same ankle that Harper injured during the fall, an injury that forced him to miss six weeks of preseason workouts.
Nimley, the team's leading scorer at 14.4 points per game, injured his knee during the early stages of the second half of Saturday's loss and did not return. An MRI did not reveal any structural damage and Nimley should be able to play by the weekend, according to head coach Barclay Radebaugh.
"Arlon's injury is a bit more serious, primarily because it's the same ankle he injured back in the fall," said Radebaugh. "We got good news back on Saah. He could go Wednesday but how effective he will be remains to be seen. As a team, we have to prepare to move forward, as best we can, without them for now."
The pair had combined for 26 points in Saturday's game before the injuries and the Buccaneers rely heavily on the duo that Radebaugh has consistently called "one of the best backcourts in mid-major basketball."
With Nimley and Harper, CSU averages 85 points per game and is among the nation's leaders in 3-point shooting. Both juniors topped the 1,000-point scoring plateau earlier this season.
Senior Sheldon Strickland, who averages 9.2 points off the bench this season, will move into a starting role at guard. Sophomore Malcolm Bernard, who plays about 13 minutes per game off the bench, will see increased minutes, according to Radebaugh.
Senior Matt Kennedy will slide over to Harper's two guard slot, allowing Bernard to play the three. Kennedy is coming off a career-high 28 points in the loss to Longwood and averages 12.2 points per game this season.
Junior Will Saunders, who averages 11.5 points per game off the bench and is one of the top 3-point shooters in the conference, will see increased playing time as well.
While injuries are a concern, Radebaugh says his team has far greater issues, particularly on the defensive end of the floor. The Buccaneers have allowed their last five conference opponents to shoot a combined 52 percent from the field and rank 10th in the 12-team league in field goal percentage defense.
In consecutive home losses to UNC Asheville and Longwood, CSU has allowed an average of 84 points.
Longwood shot 57 percent in Saturday's win as CSU failed miserably on defense in the final minutes of the three-point loss.
"To give up 88 points, I just have not seen our team defend like that in three years," said Radebaugh. "We've had back-to-back 19 win seasons because of our improved defense. It's not there right now. We gave up two layups with the game on the line, and we were in a zone. That cannot happen."
In Campbell, CSU faces a team that ranks near the bottom of the Big South in field goal shooting percentage and three-point shooting percentage. Those numbers mean very little to Radebaugh.
"We are evaluating everything that we do and simply put, I have to do a better job coaching this team to defend," said Radebaugh. "We're a play or two defensively from being 5-1 in the league but we're 3-3 and we have to get better in a hurry. These next few weeks will test our mental toughness for sure."
CSU left campus on Tuesday afternoon with the game still in doubt due to the winter storm that rolled through on Tuesday night and early Wednesday.