Conway, SC – The South's top-seed Charleston Southern will battle the North's five-seed Liberty for the Big South Conference title, as the Buccaneers and Flames collide at the HTC Center on Sunday.
While the Buccaneers were expected to make it this far the Flames certainly were not. However, surprise wins over Coastal Carolina (78-61), High Point (61-60) and Gardner-Webb (65-62) have the Flames one victory away from their first conference championship since 2004 and an NCAA Tournament bid.
Charleston Southern had a bye in the first round and after collecting a win in the quarterfinals, got past VMI (71-65) in Saturday's semifinals to reach its first conference final since 2005. If the Buccaneers can pull off the victory it would give them the second most Big South titles among active members with five.
Saah Nimley had a double-double with 23 points and 10 rebounds to carry Charleston Southern to a 79-75 win in the only meeting between these teams in the regular season. Liberty still leads the all-time series with 31 wins in 55 total matchups.
For the fourth straight game and the third time during the Tournament, Liberty held a foe to less than 65 points en route to its victory against Gardner- Webb. The two squads were tied at 62-62 with 3:21 remaining but the Flames did not allow the Bulldogs, who went 0-of-6 from the field in the final minutes.
John Caleb Sanders (13.9 ppg, 3.6 apg) scored 19 points to lead the Flames in points once again. The 6-foot guard has scored in double figures in 11 straight games while also leading the team in assists. Davon Marshall (13.3 ppg) and Tavares Speaks (12.9 ppg) are also solid scorers that can be leaned on. The Flames don't have a ton of scoring depth from there as they score 68.5 points per game on 42.7 percent shooting. Each of those marks is among the bottom half of teams in the conference. J.R. Coronado (4.9 ppg, 8.3 rpg) makes up for his lack of scoring by ranking third in the league in rebounding.
Arlon Harper scored a career-high 33 points and Nimley had another double- double (14 points, 12 rebounds) to lead the Buccaneers in their semifinal victory over VMI. The Buccaneers pressured the Keydets all game and ended with an 18-1 edge in points off turnovers.
Harper (15.6 ppg) has been an extremely impressive scorer in his sophomore season. The 6-foot-1 guard leads the Buccaneers in scoring while shooting an impressive 41.8 percent from beyond the arc. Nimley (15.4 ppg, 5.6rpg, 5.4 apg) is as versatile a performer as there is in the Big South as he puts up numbers in just about every category. Nimley's effort in the semifinals was the third time in the last four games he has had at least 10 points, five rebounds and four assists. Matching Muo (11.3 ppg) and Jeremy Sexton (10.6 ppg) provide additional offensive firepower for Liberty which is scoring a healthy 73.8 points per game as a team.