Charleston Southern snapped a two-game losing streak in resounding fashion with an 84-64 win over Winthrop on Saturday night at the Buc Dome.
Playing for the first time in a week, CSU (11-13, 5-6 BSC) looked refreshed in delivering one of its most complete performances of the season. CSU junior Arlon Harper pumped in 17 points to pace five players in double figures scoring as the Bucs shot 57 percent from the field and enjoyed a lead as large as 23.
Defensively, CSU stifled a Winthrop (14-11, 7-5 BSC) team that entered on a four-game winning streak and had sunk 15 three-pointers in an 85-68 win over the Bucs in Rock Hill on January 11. The Eagles were limited to 36.5 percent shooting and were never able to generate a rhythm against the Bucs' active man-to-man defense.
"It was just a really good team win," CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh said afterward. "There was a lot of guys contributing, a lot of guys working against a quality Winthrop team. It was the first time our team has been healthy in three weeks. We're still not 100 percent healthy. Saah (Nimley) and Arlon are going at about 70 percent. They're going with a lot of guts and courage and they're playing because they really want to help the team."
"I thought offensively we were efficient and defensively we were solid. Ty (Bitting) gave us a big lift off the bench and we've been anticipating that he can do that. He has a bright future here as he continues to work."
CSU seniors Sheldon Strickland and Matt Kennedy each added 14 points, while Cedrick Bowen chipped in 12. Nimley came off the bench for a second straight game and controlled play late with his ability to create off the dribble, posting 11 points and five assists without committing a turnover in 26 minutes of action. Bitting provided a spark off the bench for Radebaugh and company, matching a career-high with eight points while also pulling down five rebounds and blocking three shots.
Harper played the role of catalyst for CSU for much of the night. He scored the Bucs' first four points of the night and helped put away the game after Winthrop went on a 5-0 spurt to crawl within 43-36 out of halftime.
Harper started an 8-0 CSU run with a deep three late in the shot clock, and then stepped in front of Winthrop's Andre Smith for a steal and raced the other way for a layup. Following a defensive stop, Harper drove the baseline and pitched out to Strickland for a corner three, staking the Bucs to a 51-36 lead. CSU's advantage never dipped lower than ten the rest of the way, as the Bucs led by as many as 23 and cruised to victory.
"A couple days off kind of gave me a chance to get my body back right and think about some things," Harper said. "(I want to) push myself a little more because at this point we have to have a sense of urgency. We've dug ourselves a hole and we've gotta climb out. I need to be a big part of that so I just wanted to come out, be aggressive and look for my shot a little bit. Down the home stretch, these last five games here, I've gotta be aggressive and try to get things going for the team."
Winthrop cut the CSU lead to 58-48 on a Christian Farmer jumper at the 10:44 mark, but the Bucs responded with a 10-4 run to close out the Eagles. Bowen and Strickland converted layups to begin the spurt, and the Bucs then made six free throws to advance their cushion to 16 with only 6:35 left.
Winthrop took an early 8-4 lead on an Andre Smith jumper, but Bowen threw down a two-handed dunk off a pick-and-roll pass from Nimley to jumpstart a 10-0 CSU run. Paul Gombwer drilled two left wing threes during the surge, and Alhaji Fullah added a right-handed finish from in close to give the Bucs the lead for good.
One of Harper's two triples pushed the CSU lead to 24-15 with 11:51 remaining in the opening stanza, before Winthrop ripped off eight straight points to come within a point. CSU would outscore Winthrop, 19-8, for the remainder of the half, though, to enter intermission up 43-31.
Bowen swished a tough turn-around jumper to begin the closing stretch of the first half, and Nimley, Strickland and Bitting made six free throws to push the advantage to seven. Kennedy scored five straight points late in the half to give the Bucs a jolt, hitting a short jumper and a corner trey in a span of 55 seconds. He also beat the first half buzzer with a layup after grabbing a rebound and going coast to coast for the score.
"Defensively, there's no reason we can't play like that every night," Radebaugh said. "We're athletic, we're long and we're smart so I'm looking forward to continuing to grow in that area as we push toward the conference tournament."
CSU begins a three-game road trip on Monday against High Point in a game that was originally scheduled for this past Thursday before being postponed. Tipoff at the Millis Center in High Point, N.C. is set for 7 p.m.