CHARLESTON, S.C. – Charleston Southern squares off against Campbell in the first round of the VisitMyrtleBeach.com Big South Basketball Championships on Wednesday night. Tipoff at the HTC Center in Conway, S.C. is slated for 6 p.m.
CSU (12-17, 6-10 BSC) is looking for redemption of sorts following an up-and-down regular season that began with aspirations of a second straight conference championship. The Bucs were picked the favorite in the South Division in the league's preseason poll, but struggled through adversity and injuries to finish fifth.
CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh was pleased with the fight his team displayed in Saturday's regular season finale, a 63-61 loss to Coastal Carolina. The Bucs played valiantly against a Chanticleers' team bidding for a Big South South Division title. They shot 50 percent in the first half and limited Coastal to 31 percent shooting to take a 32-25 halftime lead. In the second half, CSU overcame a tough shooting stanza to rally to take a 61-60 lead on the strength of a 14-3 run.
The resolve CSU showed only two days after a two-point home loss to Gardner-Webb on senior day, was impressive to Radebaugh.
"I thought Saturday's performance was encouraging because our guys really came to fight in a tough environment," Radebaugh said. "We played well in the first half and didn't play as well in the second but we kept battling. We know we're capable of playing with anyone in the league, and that anything can happen in the tournament."
Campbell (12-19, 6-10 BSC) opened the Big South season a surprising 5-2 under first-year head coach Kevin McGeehan, but enters having lost eight of its last nine games. Like CSU, Campbell comes in off a narrow loss. The Fighting Camels almost denied High Point the Big South's outright regular season title, falling 56-53.
The Fighting Camels defeated the Bucs, 65-57, in Buies Creek on January 29 in the only meeting between the two sides this season. Campbell made 11 of its final 12 shots of the first half in that contest, including six straight threes, to open up a nine-point halftime lead. CSU played without both Saah Nimley and Arlon Harper in that matchup, and struggled offensively, shooting just 33 percent while making 6-of-29 attempts from three-point range.
Campbell's Reco McCarter and Darius Leonard scored 14 points apiece to pace the Fighting Camels in their win over the Bucs. Luke Moyer chipped in 13 points on the strength of four threes. Although Campbell struggled during the season's second half, its unique style of play presents a challenge to prepare for.
"We're glad we have two days to prepare for this game because Campbell is a tough matchup," Radebaugh said. "They have grown a lot in the Princeton offense during Kevin's first year, and defensively, they are effective with their athleticism in the matchup zone. They've been right there in a lot of their losses so we know it's going to be a close battle like pretty much every one has been in the Big South this year."
The three-point shot figures to be an important factor in Wednesday's game. CSU ranks third in the country in made threes per game, while Campbell is 17th. Campbell's stretch of six straight made triples late in the first half spurred it to victory over CSU in January, as the Fighting Camels finished 11-of-24 from three-point range.
Matt Kennedy pumped in a game-high 20 points in the first meeting with Campbell, and capped off a remarkable regular season with back-to-back 16 point efforts last week. The senior from West Ashley High School capped the year as the Bucs' leader in total points while shooting 52 percent from the field and three-point range. He scored in double figures 20 times this season after not doing so once in his first three years as a Buc.
Will Saunders also tallied 16 markers in Saturday's loss to Coastal, and has shot the ball better of late after a cold stretch midway through conference play. Saunders is 12-of-30 from three-point range over his last five outings, highlighted by a five trey, 17-point outing in CSU's road rout of Presbyterian.
CSU needs two wins to advance to the Big South Tournament semifinal round for a third straight season. The Bucs gutted out a pair of wins last year to earn a spot in the title game for the first time since 2005. CSU downed Winthrop, 54-47, in the quarterfinals, before erasing a nine-point deficit to best VMI, 71-65, in the semifinals. Liberty kept CSU out of the NCAA Tournament field, though, with an 87-76 win in the tournament championship game.
CSU and Campbell have met three previous times in the Big South Tournament, with the Bucs holding a 2-1 series edge. The Bucs won the 1987 league title by beating Campbell, while the Fighting Camels earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament with a championship game triumph in 1992.
The winner of the CSU-Campbell game advances to Friday's quarterfinals to play No. 1 South seed Coastal Carolina. That game will tip at 6 p.m., as the Chanticleers play inside their home HTC Center.