CLINTON, S.C. – Charleston Southern capped off a stretch of four games in a week with an emphatic 86-47 win over Presbyterian at the Templeton Center on Saturday.
CSU (12-15, 6-8 BSC) was playing its third road game in six days but looked energized from the opening tipoff and dominated the game start to finish. Junior Will Saunders buried five three-pointers and scored 17 points to pace four players in double figures scoring, while senior Alhaji Fullah chipped in a career-high 14 points.
Presbyterian (6-23, 2-12 BSC) was led by 17 points from Jordan Downing, but the Big South's third-leading scorer had to work for it against a stingy CSU defense. The Bucs held Downing to 8-of-22 shooting and limited PC to 39 percent shooting as a team. CSU forced 17 turnovers, leading to a 28-10 advantage in points off turnovers.
Saunders also pulled down nine rebounds to lead a spirited rebounding effort. CSU out-rebounded PC 41-28 overall and 13-4 on the offensive glass en route to recoding a 21-2 edge in second chance points.
The Bucs put forth one of their most thorough performances of the season even without junior point guard Saah Nimley, who sat out a second straight game due to injury.
"I thought that was as well as we've played the last month," CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh said. "It's taken us a while to learn how to play without Saah, but we're starting to get better. I was really pleased with the way we competed defensively and on the boards, particularly being our fourth game of the week. We were active and did a good job making Downing work for his points."
CSU led 39-20 at halftime and never let PC threaten in the second half. Fullah started the Bucs' second half effort with a pair of layups, pushing the advantage to 23. PC would cut the lead to 20 on a Downing layup but could never draw closer. Matt Kennedy drained a three on CSU's next possession and the rout was on.
CSU freshman Ty'Quan Bitting was solid yet again off the bench, matching a career-high with eight points for the second straight Saturday. He had a pair of free throws and an inside score during the Bucs' second half surge.
The second of Bitting's free throws gave CSU a 60-35 lead at the 11:48 mark. PC's Austin Anderson hit a trey on the next possession to bring the Blue Hose within 22, but CSU closed out the contest with a 26-6 run. Saunders connected on three treys during the spurt, with the last two coming back-to-back to stake the Bucs to an 84-44 lead.
"We know Will is a great shooter and it was a matter of time until he had a night like that again," said Radebaugh of Saunders, who has been struggling with his shot a bit of late. "Will has really had to learn to play defense so he's committed a lot of time and energy to that and if he can combine that with his ability to shoot it, he's a really good basketball player."
Balanced scoring helped CSU throughout the first half, as no player entered double figures until nearly the halfway mark of the second stanza.
The Bucs jumped out to a 12-4 lead in the opening minutes, with threes by Strickland and Kennedy and a Gombwer lay-in off a Bowen offensive rebound highlighting the stretch.
PC cut its deficit to five at 16-11 on a Jake Campbell jumper, but a Bitting dunk started the Bucs on a 13-3 run that helped them begin to pull away. Bowen was all over the place on the offensive glass during the push, converting a pair of put backs and a free throw. A Harper jumper and two Saunders free throws advanced CSU's cushion to 29-14 with 8:01 left until halftime.
PC whittled the CSU lead to 29-18 before the Bucs ran off ten of the final 12 points of the period to take a 19-point lead into halftime. Saunders swished home a three toward the end of the half, and Gombwer capped the first half scoring by grabbing an offensive rebound and dribbling out to the corner, where he drilled a triple.
CSU returns to the Buc Dome for its senior day game Wednesday against Gardner-Webb. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m., and the Bucs will honor their six seniors prior to the start.
"We have to get a good day of rest in and then prepare for a good Gardner-Webb team," Radebaugh said. "We played really well tonight and now the challenge for us is to start doing it consistently and try to build some momentum going toward the Big South Tournament."