Speaking after his team had just pulled off one of the more stunning and unexpected performances of his six-year tenure Wednesday night, Coastal Carolina basketball coach Cliff Ellis was asked to look ahead to the Chanticleers’ next big test Saturday at College of Charleston, and his message was clear.
“I’ve got to tone them down tomorrow because everyone’s going to call them and tell them how great they are,” Ellis said.
The Chants had just rolled past Clemson, 69-46, after losing their previous five games against Division I competition, and Ellis was quick to remind everybody what happened the last time his team pulled off an upset like that. After edging Clemson at the buzzer on the road last year, the Chants then stumbled to a disappointing loss at Florida International in their next game.
And even more so than that team, these Chants still have plenty to prove.
“We’re still trying to find our way, but I think we came a long way tonight. I really do,” Ellis said Wednesday.
The potential is certainly there for that win to go down as a pivotal turning point for the Chants (4-5), but given their erratic play to this point, it’s going to take more than one standout performance to signal that this young team is ready to contend for a Big South Conference championship or more this season.
In College of Charleston (6-4), Coastal draws another formidable challenge and one it has struggled with over the years. The Cougars have won 12 of the past 13 meetings between the teams and already have wins over Boston College, Baylor, Charleston Southern, Elon and Old Dominion so far this season.
That said, they also lost by 42 to a highly-ranked Louisville team and then fell 65-49 to Division II Anderson University the following game. Ellis noted that the Cougars were short on personnel in that game and played without leading scorer Andrew Lawrence, and considering the Chants’ own stumbles to this point – including a 30-point loss at Boston a few weeks ago – he knows as well as anybody that this is indeed a stern test for his still-maturing squad.
“College of Charleston is a great team,” Ellis said. “Forget that score with Anderson because they [were missing players]. We know they’re good. They just thumped Old Dominion. It’s going to be a tough game. I’ve got to settle them down because it’s going to be a tough game.”
And, perhaps, a telling game for Coastal.
The most impressive statistic to come from the Chants’ win over Clemson is that they posted a 39-32 rebounding advantage against a Tigers team led in the frontcourt by two proven seniors. Coastal got a game-high 10 rebounds from freshman forward Uros Ljeskovic, eight from fellow freshman forward Michel Enanga and key bench contribution from another freshman forward in Badou Diagne (eight points, two 3-pointers and three rebounds in 15 minutes).
“You build a lot of confidence,” Diagne said. “It will help us a lot as young guys, freshman coming in getting this big win. We’re going to play like we have more confidence now and look forward to something bigger.”
That’s yet to be seen, but Wednesday night was certainly a positive step. And another one Saturday at College of Charleston would be just as significant as the Chants near the start of Big South Conference play in a couple weeks.
“We’re getting better,” Ellis said. “We’re getting better. … I still think we’ve got some ways to go, but I think when you’ve got so many guys who haven’t played much, you can play defense and you can rebound.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.