The final stretch run for the Big South Conference regular season title has officially begun.
Charleston Southern used a 21-7 run over a seven-minute stretch in the second half to break open a close game, beating visiting Coastal Carolina, 83-72, before a packed CSU Field House.
With the win, the Buccaneers remain in a four-way tie for first place in the Big South Conference standings with five games remaining in the regular season.
CSU improved to 15-9 overall and 9-4 in Big South play and evened the season series with their rivals from Conway. Charleston Southern is tied for the top spot in the league standings with High Point, UNC Asheville and Radford.
Coastal Carolina dropped to 17-8 on the season, 8-5 in the Big South. The Chanticleers remain a game out of first, along with Winthrop and Gardner-Webb.
Senior point guard Saah Nimley solidified himself as the leading candidate for Big South Player of the Year, scoring 20 of his 24 points in the second half, including five 3-pointers.
Senior Will Saunders added 18 points, hitting four of five from beyond the arc. Charleston Southern connected on nine 3-pointers in the game, including six in the second half. Junior guard Aaron Wheeler scored 15 points while senior forward Cedrick Bowen scored 11. Senior guard Arlon Harper added nine points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals.
“Great win for our guys,” said CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh. “Great win over a quality team. I thought in the second half we competed really well and we showed a real strong desire to win. It wasn’t the prettiest game, but it was a hard-fought game. I told our guys, we had to have this one to stay in the race. Now we have to win every one of them to stay in the race.”
Coastal Carolina entered the contest having beaten CSU three straight times by a total of 16 points. This game featured 20 lead changes and 11 ties.
With CSU trailing, 50-47, Nimley’s second trey of the half tied the game at 50 with 11:39 to play in the game.
Nimley hit another 3 to tie the game at 55 with 10 minutes left, and the Bucs proceeded to open up a 68-58 lead with 6:17 to play. Saunders’ 3 with 1:56 remaining gave CSU its largest lead at 81-66.
“Coastal is a rivalry, but every single game in this league is tough. The teams are good in this conference,” said Radebaugh. “But our team is good too. We gave ourselves a chance and I am really proud of our guys for fighting so hard when we didn’t have our ‘A’ game.”
Charleston Southern led for more than 14 minutes of the first half, opening up an early five-point lead. However, the game was played within a few points for most of the half with the visitors managing a one-point lead on several occasions.
Nimley was held scoreless until 8:09 remained in the half, scoring a basket to give CSU a 19-18 lead. A technical foul on CSU’s Cedrick Bowen resulted in Gillis hitting two free throws with 28 seconds left, giving Coastal Carolina a 33-32 halftime lead.
Charleston Southern was three for 12 from beyond the arc in the opening half and shot 39 percent overall, while Coastal Carolina shot 41 percent from the field and dominated the glass, 25-13.
CSU improved dramatically on the boards in the second half, finishing the half with a 19-12 advantage. The Buccaneers also shot 64 percent from the floor in the second half, finishing at 50 percent for the game.
Charleston Southern improved to 11-2 at home and won for only the second time this season when trailing at halftime.
The Buccaneers travel to Longwood on Saturday.
“This win means nothing if we don’t go to Longwood on Saturday and play well,” said Harper.