Before the biggest and most raucous home crowd of the season, Charleston Southern senior point guard Saah Nimley scored a career-high 37 points as the Buccaneers won their fifth straight game, beating Gardner-Webb, 93-80, on Saturday night at the CSU Fieldhouse.
In scoring 30 points or more for the fourth consecutive game, Nimley moved into fourth on the CSU career scoring list. The 5-6 Nimley hit seven 3-pointers and became the first player in the country to score 30 points in four consecutive games this season.
The two teams entered the game as part of a five-way tie for first in the Big South.
Charleston Southern (12-7, 6-2) limited one of the league’s top players, Gardner-Webb forward Jerome Hill, to only five points.
Senior Arlon Harper added 20 points and senior Will Saunders added 17, hitting five 3-pointers as Charleston Southern connected on 15 of 28 shots from beyond the arc. CSU shot 51 percent from the field for the game.
“It was certainly a great win for us,” said Charleston Southern head coach Barclay Radebaugh. “Our guys played really hard and made some big plays down the stretch. The Buc Dome was really rocking. We’re hard to beat when this place is like it was tonight. It was a very entertaining game. It was a great atmosphere.”
Gardner-Webb (13-8, 5-3) got 19 points from Adonis Burbage and Tyrell Nelson, while Harold McBride scored 17. The Bulldogs shot 50 percent from the field, making 12 of 28 3-point attempts.
Saunders connected for three consecutive 3-pointers in the first six minutes of the game and teamed with Nimley to hit 8 of 8 from beyond the arc in the first 11 minutes of the game.
Charleston Southern opened up its biggest lead at 53-31 with 5:13 remaining before the Bulldogs closed the half with a 13-5 run, cutting CSU’s lead to 58-44 at halftime.
Nimley finished the first half with 26 points and Saunders had 14 as CSU shot 55 percent from the field, including an 11 of 15 performance from beyond the arc.
“I give Gardner-Webb a lot of credit,” said Radebaugh. “We hit them with a serious haymaker in the first half. There is not many teams that could withstand that, and they did.
“They’re a good team. This was a battle for first place, and they didn’t get into a first-place tie without being a very good team. I knew we would have to make plays throughout the game to win. We certainly did tonight.”
The hot shooting did not carry over for CSU in the second half as the Buccaneers opened the half making only three of their first 14 shots. The Bulldogs managed to trim the margin to single digits at 65-57 with 13:37 to play before Saunders hit his fifth trey of the game for a 68-57 advantage with 12 minutes remaining.
Charleston Southern missed 14 of its first 19 shots of the second half, including a 1-of-9 effort from beyond the arc before Nimley hit his sixth and seventh 3-pointers of the game to give CSU an 80-68 lead with six minutes to play.
Gardner-Webb cut the lead to 80-73 with five minutes left before Harper’s baseline jumper pushed the lead back to nine with 4:05 left in the game.
Harper hit two free throws with 3:30 left for an 84-73 lead, then beat the shot clock with a 27-foot 3-pointer with 2:38 left giving the Buccaneers an 87-75 advantage.
CSU will host Radford in the final game of a three-game homestand on Wednesday.
“Another big game for us,” said Radebaugh. “We have to hold home court whenever possible. It’s another tremendous challenge for us.”