CONWAY — After a pair of road losses last week and three tough tests overall to open the season, the Coastal Carolina men’s basketball team returns to its home court Tuesday night for a game that should allow the Chanticleers to expand their bench a bit, work on some of the areas that have hindered them to this point and, at least in the case of sophomore guard Warren Gillis, heal.
The Chants (1-2) will be without Gillis for a second-straight game as they take on a struggling Division III Johnson & Wales program while the sophomore starter continues to recover from a strained foot.
So in several regards, a game like this against the sort of overmatched opponent the Chants have dispatched with ease in recent years comes at just the right time after physical road games at Ole Miss and Tennessee Tech last week.
“We got beat up, that’s the biggest thing,” coach Cliff Ellis said. “We lost Warren Gillis on the trip. Hopefully we can have him back by Saturday, but he had a foot strain. Kierre [Greenwood] is banged up. We played three tough ballgames, and the thing that came out of it was the physicality. We got banged up pretty well. So the big thing for us right now is to try to get healthy and get our team back.”
Gillis, who tallied 10 points and eight rebounds in Coastal’s season-opening overtime win over Akron, did not play Thursday against Tennessee Tech as the Chants built a 35-30 halftime lead before ultimately falling 71-69. They had also led at halftime against Ole Miss last Tuesday before losing 90-72.
Freshman forward Badou Diagne will remain in the starting lineup with Gillis out. The 6-foot-7 rookie had five points and four rebounds at Tennessee Tech, and his presence in the lineup moves fellow freshman Michel Enanga from the power forward to the small forward spot while opening up playing time for several of the team’s other reserves.
“Our depth is down, and we need a game like [this] where we’re playing a team where we’re favored to win,” Ellis said. “It would be very difficult, I think, if we were playing a DI [opponent]. I just think that we’re that banged up.”
The one definite positive Ellis has taken from the first three games – even the two losses – is that his team has won the rebounding battle in each. The play of the frontcourt was a question heading into the season with Enanga and junior college transfer El Hadji Ndieguene both filling holes in the starting lineup despite being new to Division I college basketball.
“The rebounding has been a pleasant surprise,” Ellis said. “Not to say I didn’t think we could be good, but I think the way our team battles just shows that they’ve got a lot of grit and determination and they’ll battle you inside.”
Enanga has been the best of the newcomers, averaging 8.3 points and 8.7 rebounds while tying Greenwood for the team lead with 10 assists so far, while the 6-foot-10 Ndieguene is averaging a modest 3.7 points and 5.3 rebounds through three starts.
“I’ve learned that it’s not as easy as you think, but we’re coming along,” Ndieguene said. “We’ve had our chances for the last two games. We didn’t exploit them, but I think it’s a learning process with a lot of young guys.”
And, for the time being at least, a healing process.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.