CHARLESTON, S.C. – Will Saunders hit his first four three-pointers of the contest en route to a career-high 23 points and Paul Gombwer posted a double-double in the first half as Charleston Southern cruised to a 105-45 win over Columbia International at the Buc Dome on Monday night.
Saunders finished the game 8-for-11 from the floor and 6-of-8 from three-point range as the Buccaneers used a 24-6 run in the opening half to build a double-digit lead that was never threatened.
Charleston Southern improved to 6-7 overall on the year with the win, while Columbia International fell to 3-8. The Bucs open up Big South Conference play Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m., hosting Coastal Carolina at the Buc Dome.
"I didn't think it was our best performance, but credit CIU for coming in and playing hard," CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh said. "We took care of business early, put it out of reach and then kind of coasted from there."
"We just have to be ready to play," Radebaugh said of Wednesday's matchup against the Chanticleers. "They are well coached. Coach (Cliff) Ellis is a veteran. It isn't his first rodeo. He'll come in and they will be prepared to play. We know they are talented, they are strong, athletic. We know that and it should be a really good game."
Saunders paced the Bucs to 50 percent shooting for the night, including a 58 percent clip in the first half. Gombwer tallied his fifth career double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds, while freshman Bakari Copeland matched a career-high by netting 17 points off the bench in the second half.
CSU sophomore Malcolm Bernard narrowly missed out on a double-double of his own on the night with 12 points and nine rebounds as Charleston Southern held the 55-31 advantage on the glass.
Columbia International was led by Chase Bell's 15 points as the Rams were held to 25.9 percent shooting from the floor. Zach Durkee was also in double-digits with 12 points overall for visiting CIU.
Gombwer opened up the contest with four of the Bucs first six points, connecting on a pair of free throws and a jumper, while Alhaji Fullah put in a two-handed slam dunk as CSU went ahead early. Columbia International battled back with the next four points as Chase Bell connected on a three-pointer at the 17-minute mark.
Saunders made an immediate impact off the bench for the Bucs, connecting on his first four three-point attempts as the Buccaneers lead went from 6-4 to 19-4 over a span of 2:35.
The Bucs continued to increase their advantage throughout the half, reaching a 20-point lead at 30-10 following a pair of Arlon Harper free throws in the midst of a 10-0 run. Gombwer closed out the stretch, lofting a hook shot over a CIU defender to put the score at 34-10 with 6:11 remaining in the half.
Dunks by Ty'Quan Bitting and Malcolm Bernard continued carrying on the momentum for CSU as the Bucs entered the halftime locker room with a 54-17 edge.
Saunders connected on six of eight attempts from behind the arc in the first half in scoring a season-high 21 points before intermission.
"The thing I like the most is [Will Saunders] made a couple quick, and our guys found him after that," Radebaugh said. "We have some smart guards that can get guys the ball when they are shooting well and that's what happened tonight. He was on fire there for awhile and we kept on getting him the ball. He certainly can shoot the ball as well as anybody we've had here at CSU."
The CSU bench took over in the second half as Bitting and Saunders came out of the break with back-to-back baskets before a three by Copeland pushed the Buccaneers advantage to 61-20 with 17:43 remaining in the half. Copeland added two more three-pointers during a six minute span as Charleston Southern went ahead 73-26 at the 14:40 mark in the second half.
The Buccaneers' lead reached 50 points a little over four minutes later as Cedrick Bowen threw down a thunderous dunk and CSU was never threatened for the remainder of the contest heading in closing out the 105-45 win.
CSU will take on Coastal Carolina on Wednesday at the Buc Dome. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m., as the Bucs begin their defense of last season's Big South regular season championship.