BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. — Despite playing without senior point guard Kierre Greenwood, despite having several key players mired in foul trouble during pivotal stretches and despite trailing almost the entire game, the Coastal Carolina men’s basketball team came within a fraction of a second of earning what would have been a momentous victory Wednesday night for this young squad.
Either that gives the Chanticleers some consolation after their second-straight Big South Conference loss or it makes this one even tougher to absorb.
Down by 11 points with just more than three minutes remaining, Coastal rallied to take its only two leads of the game in the final 53 seconds, but the ultimate highlight belonged to Gardner-Webb as freshman Jerome Hill tossed in a put-back off an errant 3-pointer just before the buzzer to send the host Runnin’ Bulldogs to a 66-65 win inside Paul Porter Arena.
“We played tough. We just came up short, and I hate it for those guys because when you have that type of effort you really want them to feel the win,” CCU coach Cliff Ellis said.
With Greenwood sidelined due to a stomach virus, the Chants (7-8, 2-2 Big South) put the ball in the hands of sophomore guard Warren Gillis with the game at stake. Gillis had hit a short pull-up jumper with 53 seconds remaining to give Coastal its first lead of the game – 63-62 – before Hill followed on the other end with a tip-in for Gardner-Webb (10-8, 2-2).
Up 64-63, the Runnin’ Bulldogs immediately called timeout with 14.6 seconds left to set up their defense. Gillis inbounded for Coastal and quickly got the ball back on the way to driving for a seemingly effortless layup that put the Chants back ahead, 65-64.
“Both times I thought that was a done deal,” Gillis said. “But we gave up and didn’t box out, basically – gave up some easy baskets.”
Inbounding with 8.0 on the clock, Gardner-Webb got the ball to sophomore Max Landis for a 3-pointer from the left corner. He air-balled the shot over the rim, but Hill was waiting in the right spot and tossed it back in just in time. Student fans rushed the court to celebrate before being asked to return to their seats as the referees reviewed the replay to make sure Hill got the shot off in time. He did, and just like that, Coastal’s emotions had been turned upside down after a wild Wednesday night conference clash.
“They scored their last two buckets off of offensive rebounds. That hurt,” Ellis said. “We got them to miss, but you can’t look at one play or two plays. Our guys fought their hearts out. We were in foul trouble, we were playing with one less guy, I can’t say enough about our team. It was a valiant effort. I thought we were going to get it, but those two offensive rebounds and put-backs in the end were how they scored. ... I can’t condemn our guys.”
Without Greenwood, who fell ill early in the day and was coming off a career-high 27-point performance, senior guard Anthony Raffa scored a game-high 25 points for Coastal while Gillis, senior guard Charles Ashford and freshman forward Michel Enanga all chipped in eight points each. Junior center El Hadji Ndieguene had a game-high 11 rebounds for the Chants.
Ashford, who got the start in place of Greenwood, hadn’t played more than 13 minutes against a Division I opponent all season before logging 30 minutes Wednesday night. He, Gillis and freshman guard Justin Daniel all battled foul trouble with four each while Enanga fouled out with 7:51 remaining.
Gardner-Webb, which has a win over Big East foe DePaul this season and also played a ranked Illinois team to within a point, got 18 points from sophomore Donta Harper, 17 from senior Tashan Newsome and a career-best 15 from Hill.
The Chants struggled to find any rhythm offensively most of the game without Greenwood and had their end-of-game defense and 34-26 rebounding advantage to thank for making a comeback even possible.
“It’s tough,” Raffa said of adjusting to Greenwood’s absence. “He’s our leader. He’s the point guard leader. He’s been here for four years, and he knows the system like the back of his hands.”
Still, the Chants had a chance.
After going down 62-51 with about three and a half minutes left, Coastal reeled off the next 12 points to pull ahead. Raffa contributed eight of those points before Gillis took over in the final minute.
“We battled back. You can say a lot about this team,” Raffa said. “Kierre went down and we had guys that don’t play that much [who] stepped up tonight. We needed that, but unfortunately, we didn’t come out on top.”
Ellis said he was hopeful Greenwood would be available when Coastal hosts VMI on Saturday. “[He was] totally drained, and it didn’t hit him until this morning, so we’ll get him back home, get him rested and see if he can be available Saturday,” Ellis said.
Coastal Carolina (7-8, 2-2 Big South) – Diagne 2-5 0-1 5, Ndieguene 2-6 1-1 5, Gillis 4-9 0-0 8, Raffa 10-19 1-1 25, Ashford 2-6 4-6 8, Enanga 3-4 0-0 8, Ljeskovic 1-1 0-6 2, Daniel 2-3 0-0 4. Totals 26-53 6-15 65.
Gardner-Webb (10-8, 2-2) – Branch 0-2 0-0 0, Hartley 2-3 0-0 6, Harper 7-14 4-8 18, Strange 2-5 2-2 8, Newsome 5-11 5-6 17, Landis 0-5 0-0 0, Davis 0-0 0-0 0, Hensley 1-1 0-0 2, Hill 6-6 3-4 15, Byron 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-47 14-20 66.
Halftime—Gardner-Webb 30-26. 3-Point Goals—Coastal Carolina 7-19 (Raffa 4-9, Enanga 2-3, Diagne 1-2, Ashford 0-2, Gillis 0-3), Gardner-Webb 6-12 (Hartley 2-2, Newsome 2-3, Strange 2-4, Landis 0-3). Fouled Out—Enanga, Hartley. Rebounds—Coastal Carolina 34 (Ndieguene 11), Gardner-Webb 26 (Harper 8). Assists—Coastal Carolina 8 (Ashford, Gillis 2), Gardner-Webb 14 (Strange 5). Total Fouls—Coastal Carolina 24, Gardner-Webb 21.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318 or follow him at twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.