Nimley powers Bucs past Presbyterian

– CSU’s Cedrick Bowen gathers himself for a dunk in the Buccaneers' win over the Presbyterian on Wednesday night. The Bucs stayed in a first-place tie atop the Big South standings with the win.

Charleston Southern maintained its share of the lead in the Big South Conference regular-season standings, dismantling visiting Presbyterian with a torrid second half on its way to a 75-49 win.

With the victory, CSU improved to 17-9 overall and 11-4 in Big South play. The Buccaneers remain in a first-place tie with High Point with three games remaining in the regular season. Those two teams meet in the regular-season finale at CSU on Feb. 28.

Senior point guard Saah Nimley, the top scorer in the Big South who managed only six points in Saturday’s win over Longwood, exploded for 34 points, including 25 in the second half. Nimley connected on eight 3-pointers, tying a career-high. The 5-6 Nimley moved into third place on CSU’s career scoring list in his sixth 30-point outing of the season.

Senior guard Arlon Harper added 11 points, while senior small forward Will Saunders grabbed eight rebounds. CSU out-rebounded the Blue Hose, 39-30, and shot 54 percent in the second half and 46 percent from the field for the game. The win was CSU’s fourth straight.

“Our guys were really focused in the second half,” said CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh. “The first half we were a little shaky. I didn’t think we played to our full potential in the first half, but we were really good in the second half.”

Charleston Southern led, 30-23, at the half and quickly opened up a double-digit lead in the second half when Nimley drained a 3-pointer in the first minute. The Blue Hose cut the margin to 36-31 with 17:16 to play, but the Buccaneers went on a 17-2 run to take a 53-33 lead with 9:36 remaining. CSU would lead by as many as 26 during the latter stages of the game.

“We won this game on the defensive end tonight,” said Radebaugh. “When we make as many shots as we did (13 3-pointers), we’re really hard to beat, but we won this game on the defensive end. I am really proud of our guys for how hard they worked on the defensive end.”

Jordan Downing led Presbyterian (9-19, 5-10) with 12 points. The Blue Hose shot only 36 percent from the floor for the game. Downing scorched CSU for 29 points earlier this season, but junior Aaron Wheeler held Downing to five-of-14 shooting on Wednesday night.

“I was guarding him the last time we played and I took it personal that he scored 29 points on me,” said Wheeler, who had five assists and two steals in the game. “I came out tonight determined to try to make him shoot a bad percentage.”

Charleston Southern hits the road for the next two games, playing at Campbell on Saturday and at Gardner-Webb on next Wednesday. Radebaugh feels his team is mentally ready for the final stretch of games.

“We have basically been in tournament play for the last two weeks because of the tightness of our league,” said the coach. “These guys have answered the bell every time. That’s not easy to do. They haven’t flinched. They have come to the center of the ring in every game and they have fought like crazy. It’s impressive to me, because of the quality of our league, you really can’t afford a mistake.”