CONWAY There was only so much one could expect out of Coastal Carolina’s basketball game with Toccoa Falls College on Thursday night.
The Chanticleers were playing an Eagles team that had lost 10-straight games, a team that plays far off the national radar in Division II of the National Christian College Athletic Association and a team that had lost by 59 points at Presbyterian in its other game this season against a Big South Conference foe.
In that regard, it was surprising to see the Chants holding only a nine-point lead at halftime, but the outcome was never really in doubt and the intrigue didn’t last long as Coastal ultimately cruised to a 75-38 win inside The HTC Center.
It was the first game for the Chants (3-5) in seven days and their second win this season against a non-NCAA-affiliated opponent, which is to say that despite the lopsided final score, this team still has plenty to prove when it hosts ACC foe Clemson next week.
“The toughest game to play is when you’re coming off of exams,” CCU coach Cliff Ellis said. “I don’t care what the [opponent] is, that’s just a tough deal because these guys have been burning the midnight oil. You want to see energy and just kind of get those exams out of your system. I haven’t had many pretty games as a coach in my entire career when you’re coming off exams. No excuses. It just seems to always be ragged.”
And for a while Thursday night, it certainly was.
After entering halftime with a 34-25 lead, though, the Chants asserted themselves quickly in the second half while opening on a 30-2 run to push that lead to 64-27. It was a listless performance down the stretch from the Eagles, who were outrebounded 21-10 after the break.
Senior guard Anthony Raffa led Coastal with 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting, and sophomore guard Warren Gillis added 13 while sinking 3-of-5 3-pointers.
“[Ellis’] message was the same from the beginning -- just execute and everything will take care of itself. We came out flat-footed and put ourselves in a hole sort of,” Gillis said. “... I didn’t even notice the run, but I guess we just came out and did what we had to do [after halftime].”
Gillis’ performance was noteworthy in that he had shot just 5-of-20 over the previous two games. He said his confidence had never wavered, but for a Chants team desperately needing another scoring option to emerge, it was at least somewhat encouraging to see Gillis find his stroke.
Conversely, Ellis admitted he was disappointed the Chants didn’t get more from freshman forward Uros Ljeskovic and junior center El Hadji Ndieguene. He had said before that he hoped the team’s big men could provide an offensive lift, but it didn’t happen Thursday night as they combined for nine points -- and just two in the first half.
“I’m wanting our inside game to kind of give us more,” Ellis said. “... But I thought Warren gave us a spark, which is very important to our basketball team. We need that.”
Coastal now has another break before it returns to action next Wednesday at home against Clemson. The Chants defeated the Tigers on the road last season, but a lot has changed since then.
“This is the biggest game that’s ever been played in Coastal Carolina history at home,” Ellis said. “There’s no question about it. So our focus has got to go to that. We’ve got a big week ahead of us next week.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.