CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Charleston Southern Buccaneers couldn't overcome a cold shooting night in a 68-58 season-opening loss to the Charlotte 49ers on Friday night at Halton Arena.
The Bucs fall to 0-1 to open the year, while Charlotte opens the year 1-0.
Sophomore guard Saah Nimley opened the season with 20 points in the game while Arlon Harper chipped in 12 of his own, but the Bucs shot only 29 percent from the floor and 24 percent from three-point range in the loss.
Everything went the way the Bucs head coach Barclay Radebaugh wanted, but the shots didn't fall.
"A lot of credit to Charlotte," Radebaugh said following the game. "We knew going in we could compete with them. We knew it was going to be a close game. We got tons of open looks, great execution on offense, we didn't make shots. Really proud of our guys, really disappointed in the loss – thought we could win this game."
The Bucs raced to an early lead, grabbing a 15-6 lead out of the gate, connecting on a trio of three-pointers in the opening six minutes. CSU trailed by only one at the half, 24-23, despite shooting less than 25 percent from both the floor and three-point range.
CSU out-rebounded Charlotte, 48-44, and had 23 offensive rebounds in the game. Sophomore Paul Gombwer and senior Mathiang Muo each had double digits in boards, as Gombwer finished with 11 and Muo, 10. The rebounds didn't turn into points though, as CSU managed only 10 second-chance points.
"I love our hustle stats, we were all over the offensive boards," Radebaugh said. "We really, really worked hard. We just simply didn't make shots."
While he led the Bucs in scoring, Nimley couldn't find his range either. After shooting 40 percent from three-point range last season, he connected on just 3-of-12 from beyond the arc. CSU made only 8-of-34 as a team, despite getting good opportunities.
Radebaugh did like the effort he saw from his sophomore point guard, who seemingly spent half the night diving for loose balls and winning footraces to rebounds in the backcourt.
"Saah's a winner, a warrior, one of the best players in our league," Radebaugh added. "He is going to have a great year. Even more than his play, I loved his leadership."
Things don't any easier for CSU as the Bucs face Arizona in Tucson in less than 48 hours.
"It's really tough on our guys," Radebaugh said. "It's something we have to do. We'll make the best out of it and we're going to play as hard as we can play against Arizona."
The Bucs also struggled with 49ers guard Terrance Williams. He had a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds, while teammate Henry Pierra added 10 points and five steals.
The 49ers capitalized on the Bucs' turnovers in the second half. CSU had nine in the period and Charlotte converted those into 16 points.
The difference in the basketball game was a pair of 14-0 runs by the 49ers, one in each half. CSU withstood the first half run to trail by its slim halftime margin, but couldn't handle another charge from the 49ers at the 15-minute mark as the lead extended from 34-31 to a 48-33 margin with 13:34 remaining in the game.
The Bucs would close the gap to seven at 50-43 with a 10-2 run sparked by a pair of jumpers from Harper, including his second three-pointer of the night, but a pair of free throws from Denzel Ingram and a bucket from Williams helped put the lead back out to double figures.
CSU cut the lead to eight in the final minute on a steal-and-score by Nimley, but could not get closer.
Forward E. Victor Nickerson added 11 points and six rebounds for the 49ers.
Nimley finished 7-of-20 from the floor and had three steals. Harper finished with 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting and had four boards.
The Bucs travel west for their next game. CSU will face the University of Arizona on Sunday at the McKale Center in Tucson, Az. at 6 p.m.