CONWAY — Charleston Southern basketball coach Barclay Radebaugh says he hasn’t talked at all with his team this week about the Buccaneers’ persistent struggles against Coastal Carolina these last few years. And why should he? The Bucs are the team to beat in the Big South Conference these days, a one-point overtime loss standing as their only blemish in league play to this point.
But speaking over the phone Tuesday afternoon on the eve of the teams’ clash in Conway, Radebaugh was frank when addressing the recent history between the two programs, Coastal’s six-game winning streak in the series and why the Chants – even this young and inconsistent version – present plenty of trouble for his squad.
“Really, we don’t match up well with them,” Radebaugh said. “They’re a tough matchup for us. Kierre [Greenwood] is such a talented point guard and he’s so much bigger than our guys, it creates a matchup problem for us. Anthony [Raffa], he’s a problem for everybody. He’s such a talented scoring guard. And then their size has affected us through the years and certainly they have great size again.
“They’ve presented us problems and [this] game is no different.”
Except in one key regard. Unlike in past years perhaps, the Chants need this one more than the Buccaneers do.
Charleston Southern (12-7, 7-1 Big South), tabbed as the preseason favorite to win the conference’s South Division, is in control of its fate after dominating the first half of the league schedule. Coastal (10-10, 5-4), meanwhile, is tied for third in the division and running out of time to make up ground, needing a win over the Bucs on Wednesday night inside The HTC Center to maintain any realistic hopes of rallying for a regular-season championship.
“You play it till the end. We’ve got half the race over,” CCU coach Cliff Ellis said. “There’s a lot of games to be played, but without question Charleston Southern has set the pace to show that they’re a team you’ve got to go through. Certainly to this point, they’ve proven that. … This is an extremely good basketball team.”
When the schools met last year, Coastal picked up an overtime win in Charleston and rolled to a 13-point victory in Conway.
But Charleston Southern was young then – much like the Chants are now – with three freshmen in the starting lineup. A couple of those players are now maturing into burgeoning stars in the conference and that’s reflected in the Buccaneers’ results thus far.
Sophomore point guard Saah Nimley ranks fifth in the league in scoring (16.1 points per game) and second in assists (5.5 per game), while sophomore guard Arlon Harper is averaging 14.6 points to rank eighth. Both were named preseason all-conference – Nimley to the first-team and Harper a second-team pick – and are living up to expectations in their second season.
“Saah is a really good basketball player, [and] he’s learning to be a good floor general,” Radebaugh said. “Something we’ve had to work with on Saah is using his voice, and he’s been real receptive to that and has worked hard to be not only a good basketball player but also the quarterback of our team.”
All that said, if Nimley and Harper are forefront in the next wave of Big South guards, Greenwood and Raffa are the ones passing the torch.
Greenwood is as respected as any point guard in the league for his play on both ends of the floor and, as Radebaugh noted, has a 4-inch height advantage on Nimley. Raffa, meanwhile, is second in the league in scoring at 19.3 points per game despite often being the focus of opposing defenses.
“We have tremendous respect for Coastal Carolina, and it’s the next game on our schedule so it’s an important game for us,” Radebaugh said. “Coach Ellis has just done a great job there. There’s a reason they’ve beat us six straight – because they’re a well-coached, talented basketball team that plays well together. He’s consistently put a terrific team on the floor.”
That said, this Coastal team has been Ellis’ toughest challenge in several years. The Chants are 9-2 at home (including seven wins in a row) and just 1-8 on the road. They’ve gotten inconsistent front-court play and have had to rely heavily on their guards, and for the first time in several years, they are not positioned as one of the top contenders in the league.
Nonetheless, there’s still a belief at least among the team’s veteran players that a division championship remains within reach – especially with a win Wednesday night.
As far as regular-season games go, this one carries plenty of significance for the Chants.
“[It’s] just a big game for us,” Raffa said. “We need this win.”
Ellis said junior center El Hadji Ndieguene was undergoing more tests Tuesday in regard to his recurring headaches and his status for the game remained undetermined. Ndieguene had started Coastal’s first 19 games before sitting out Saturday.
“We will know [Wednesday],” Ellis said. “He’s doing further tests today, having MRIs, echograms and things of that type done. I think the doctors are making sure.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.