RADFORD, Va. - Charleston Southern's Saah Nimley had a game-high 20 points and 11 assists, while senior Mathiang Muo added 15 points and a career-high 15 rebounds as CSU fought off Radford down the stretch in an 81-74 win on Saturday afternoon in its Big South Conference opener.
The Bucs move to 6-6 on the year and 1-0 in Big South play, while Radford falls to 6-9 overall and 0-1 in the Big South. Charleston Southern is 5-1 since the beginning of December and picks up its second road win of the season.
The Bucs used an 18-1 run to close the first half to build an 8-point lead at the half. They outlasted Radford down the stretch as Muo connected on a big three pointer with 2:58 to play to keep the Bucs' lead at two possessions.
The win gets Charleston Southern, the preseason favorite in the Big South's South Division, off to a road win in league play, something CSU did only twice last season. The Bucs' weren't at their best for 40 minutes, but had enough to get the job done.
"It's a good win," Bucs' head coach Barclay Radebaugh said afterward. "There are going to be some teams that come into Radford and get beat. They have a good coach and a good team, and what they did today made it hard on us. I'm glad we played Radford early, because by the end of the year they are going to be tough."
The decisive run late in the first half flipped the game, as CSU turned a 9-point deficit and a lethargic early effort into a halftime lead. CSU started slow from three-point range, but finished the game 14-of-26 and made three-straight during the first half run, but it wasn't the offense that changed for the Bucs.
"We just got locked in defensively during the run," Radebaugh said of his team's 17-point spurt. "We had a group in there that was committed and was to play defense. I was searching for a group to mesh and we couldn't find one. It just seemed like today we were a step slow in every way. That wasn't the best we can play."
After the slow start, Nimley and Muo keyed both ends of the floor for CSU who never put the Highlanders away.
Muo's three pushed the Bucs' lead to six late, but Radford answered with a three of its own to cut the lead to 75-72 with a minute to play.
CSU would answered as Allie Fullah finished a Bucs' fast break and Nimley knocked down four free throws in the final 30 seconds as CSU came away with the win.
Radford's Devonte Green led the Highlanders with 19 points. He had 16 in the first half. R.J. Price added 16 for the Highlanders, who had 20 offensive rebounds, but shot only 37 percent.
Nimley did everything right for the Bucs. He had 11 assists, one off his career high, and added four steals to just one turnover.
"Saah's good everyday," Radebaugh said of his sophomore point guard. "He's 5-foot-5 on a good day but his heart is five miles wide. He's just a winner and a tough kid that plays the game the way it's supposed to be play. I am glad he's on our team."
Nimley was pleased with the way his team responded following a slow start.
"We came out (after the first 15 minutes) with more focus on execution and intensity," Nimley said. "The win feels good. There are going to be a lot of close games (in the Big South), we're going to have to come out ready to play every night."
Muo played significant minutes for the first time in over a month. He came up with one of his toughtest games as a Buc, including the game's biggest bucket. Muo missed an open three from the corner, and sophomore Malcolm Bernard snagged the offensive rebound and fed Muo, who buried a fadeaway three for his 15th point and fifth three-pointer of the night.
"He's one of those guys that can help you win in this league," Radebaugh said of Muo. "He can play the three, the four, or even the two. He's a winner and he gave us everything he had today."
Charleston Southern now turns its attention to its Big South home opener. The Bucs host Winthrop on Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. in a key, early showdown in league play.
"Winthrop is well-coached and a very good program," Radebaugh said. "We're ready to have our students back and need the Buc Dome to be rocking on Wednesday night."
The opening 10 minutes went back-and-forth with three ties and five lead changes.
CSU took a 17-15 lead on a three by Mathiang Muo with 10:15 to play in the opening half before Radford made its run.
The Highlanders reeled off a 12-1 run to build their lead to 27-18 over the next four minutes. Javonte Green carried the Radford offense early with 16 points in the opening 15 minutes.
The Bucs struggled early on defense as Radford shot over 50 percent from the floor through the opening 15 minutes and made five-straight field goals as one point during their run.
CSU would put it all together in the final six minutes to seize control.
The Bucs held Radford without a field goal to put together an 18-1 run to take an 8-point lead into the locker room.
Sophomore guard Saah Nimley was a big reason why. Nimley connected on back-to-back three pointers and added a layup with the shot clock running down to pour in eight points during the run. He also found a cutting Cedric Bowen for a two-handed dunk on traffic to start the burst.
Nimley's teammates also started to find the range.
Muo knocked down a three from the top of the key and freshman Malcolm Bernard scored his only bucket of the half on an off-balance three with just over a minute to play before the break, giving CSU a 40-32 edge at the half.
The Bucs struggled to be consistent after building their halftime lead, but had enough offensive spurts to get the win.
Arlon Harper had five quick points in an 18-second span to highlight one of a number of second half runs for the Bucs.
Radford would rally to tie the game, but CSU answered again with the three-pointer.
Senior guard Jeremy Sexton, Nimley, and Muo all knocked down three-pointers in a 50-second span as CSU quickly built its lead back out to nine at 66-57 with nine minutes to play.
Sexton had 12 points and buried four timely threes in the win.
Fullah added 10 points going 5-of-7 from the floor, while Bowen had nine points and was 3-of-6.