Nimley, Harper lead CSU’s seniors

Charleston Southern senior Saah Nimley will end his career as CSU’s third all-time leading scorer and needs four assists to be No. 1 in school history. Matt Silfer/Special to The Post and Courier/File

Charleston Southern men’s basketball coach Barclay Radebaugh knew he had something special back in 2011 during his team’s season opener.

Radebaugh watched his team take a 14-point halftime lead before dropping a 72-67 decision to a Frank Martin-coached Kansas State team. In that game, a pair of freshman guards — Saah Nimley and Arlon Harper — combined to score 20 points in their first college game.

Now, as seniors, the two guards are among the best four-year tandems in the history of the school and the Big South.

Nimley and Harper, along with fellow four-year classmates Cedrick Bowen and Paul Gombwer, will play their final home at Charleston Southern on Saturday afternoon against High Point. The foursome will leave CSU as one of the winningest senior classes in school history, having posted winning seasons in three of their four years for a total of 69 victories, and leading the team to a Big South regular-season title.

While Bowen and Gombwer have been solid starters and role players doing most of the dirty work inside, it has been Harper and Nimley that have formed one of the top backcourts in mid-major college basketball.

Combined, the duo has scored more than 3,300 points — the fourth-highest scoring total of any four-year classmates in the Big South and the best in Charleston Southern history. Each player also has made their individual marks in CSU and conference history.

Nimley is one of the country’s most prolific scorers and shooters. He currently averages 20.9 points per game, which rates fifth nationally, and is also fifth nationally in made 3-pointers per game.

Nimley will end his career as CSU’s third all-time leading scorer and needs four assists to be number one in school history. He recorded his 500th assist on Thursday night, becoming the first player in Big South history to score at least 1,700 points and dish out 500 assists. He also has made more free throws than any other player in school history and his 272 made 3-pointers is second in school history.

Saving his best for last, Nimley is averaging 24.9 points per game in Big South play. He has topped 30 points six times this season, including a stretch of four consecutive 30-point efforts — the only player in the country to achieve that feat. He currently ranks among the top 10 in seven statistical categories in the Big South and is one of the top candidates for league Player of the Year honors.

“If you looked across the country looking for the most unique player in college basketball, Saah would have to rank near the top,” said Radebaugh. “He is obviously a great scorer. He can create for others. He has speed and quickness. The amazing thing to me is that everyone in the league has known the type of player he is and they plan for him every night, but he is still able to be a very productive player.”

Harper has been one of the Big South Conference’s best all-around players over the last four years. He recently became the sixth player in Big South history with at least 1,000 points, 400 rebounds, 200 assists and 200 steals. He needs three steals to break into the top 10 in league history.

Harper will end his CSU career ranked in the top five in career scoring and is sixth in career three-pointers.

“Arlon is the quintessential team player,” said Radebaugh. “He guards the other team’s top scorer, he can help break the press, he is an incredible passer, and has great defensive anticipation. He is an incredible all-around player with an ability to score the basketball as well. He has been very unselfish throughout his career.”

Nimley and Harper are not only teammates but also best friends. They have been roommates at CSU from day one. The bond was formed early as AAU teammates and continued to grow in college. Both will graduate with degrees in communications.

“We understand each other and when you live with each other for four years you really learn each other,” said Nimley. “Arlon is one of my best friends. We know everything about each other. I know we will always have a bond and be very close. We’ve spent almost every day for the last four years together and that’s a bond that will never be broken.”

Harper almost opted to attend another college but was recruited to CSU by Nimley.

“He was the reason I came here,” said Harper. “We have been through some good and bad together over the four years but it has been a fun journey. We talk about everything. He is just like my brother. We push each other to be the best we can be. We stay on each other and we help each other stay level-headed.”

Nimley said coming to Charleston Southern to play basketball was one of the most important decisions he has made in his early life. And, he calls the decision a good one.

“It’s special here,” he said. “I have definitely loved playing here. It’s a different type of atmosphere here. I have developed some really personal relationships with some of the fans and people from this community. As far as the relationships that I have built here, I would not trade these four years for anything.”

Harper also is excited about his final time in the “Buc Dome.”

“I came here as an 18-year old kid and to see how much I have grown and how much this team has grown through these last four years, that last game will be special,” he said. “I will have tons of family here and I am so excited. But I am mature enough to stay focused and control my emotions to an extent because I know there’s a big game to play.”