CONWAY — If the Coastal Carolina women’s basketball team can find a way to salvage its season to any significant degree, the Chanticleers will surely remember what happened Thursday night as a pivotal moment in their turnaround.
Down 17 points midway through the second half, the Chants delivered perhaps their most inspired stretch of play all season to rally for a momentous 66-62 win over Longwood inside The HTC Center.
After losing 10 of 11 games while plummeting down the conference standings, the Chants (9-12, 4-7 Big South) have now delivered back-to-back victories. More pertinently, they’ve made it clear there is still some fight left in this team despite its struggles.
“That says we’ve got a group of young ladies that don’t fold up the tent and go home,” CCU associate head coach Mark Kost said. “They’ll dig in and battle with their backs against the ball because that very easily could have been a point where you just say, ‘It’s not our night. Let’s go play on Saturday.’ But they dug in and played as good of basketball down the stretch.”
Coastal had already rallied once after falling behind 12-0 to open the game. The Chants even managed to take a 23-22 lead late in the first half before heading into halftime down 28-27.
But Longwood (9-12, 6-4) then started pulling away again – seemingly for good – as it opened the second half on a 12-3 run. The Lancers’ lead peaked at 56-39 with 10:30 to play after Kost was whistled for a technical foul and Chelsea Coward knocked down two free throws. Kost – filling in for the seventh-straight game as head coach Alan LeForce remained home resting on doctor’s orders – was stunned, telling the official whatever comment she had heard had come from the stands, but that’s the way the night was going for the Chants.
Until suddenly the momentum started shifting.
“We have faith in each other,” sophomore guard Shatia Cole said. “We work hard against each other in practice and we push each other, so we didn’t lose our heads. We stayed focused and we knew we could get this win if we worked hard.”
After the teams traded points for a couple minutes, the Chants took over and closed the game on a 24-4 run. Cole scored seven of her game-high 20 points during that stretch, while junior center Katelyn Connor and junior guard Kayla Cook chipped in six points each.
Longwood got its last point on a free throw to make it 62-55, and Cook followed with a 3-pointer from the right wing, sophomore AJ Jordan knocked down two free throws to make it a two-point game and then the defense came up with a key stop as junior Angelica’s Henry’s pressure forced the Lancers into a backcourt violation. Cook and junior forward Alexx Puckett would both go to the line on Coastal’s next possession and hit one free throw each to tie the score.
Then, with a minute remaining, Cole put the Chants back ahead with a mid-range jumper just beyond the free throw line. She struggled with her shot most of the night, finishing 7-of-22 from the field, but she delivered when it mattered most. After a Longwood miss and a Coastal offensive rebound on the other end, Cole was fouled and sent to the line. She hit both free throws to make it a four-point game and all but seal the win.
“In the first half, I was kind of down on myself because I couldn’t hit a shot. But I didn’t lose faith in myself,” Cole said. “Shooters keep shooting, so I kept shooting.”
In addition to her 20 points, she had a game-high five steals. Cook finished with 10 points and seven rebounds, Puckett had 10 points and six boards and Connor added nine points for Coastal. Coward had 15 points and 10 rebounds to lead Longwood.
“We as a team kind of sat down in the middle of last week and talked about what our goals were for the rest of the season,” Kost said. “That’s between me and the team, but it’s very simple – let’s play the best basketball we have all year, clip off some wins as we go along the way and be the team at the end that’s playing good basketball going into the tournament because then you never know what can happen.”
Longwood (9-11, 6-3 Big South) – Daeisha Brown 2-4 2-3 6, Chelsea Coward 4-15 6-7 15, Mieke Elkington 5-11 0-0 11, Erin Neal 4-7 3-5 11, Khalilah Ali 3-4 0-1 6, Kyndal Skersick 0-1 0-0 0, Deborah Headen 0-0 0-0 0, Raven Williams 2-4 0-0 4, Jaclyn Reagan 3-8 0-0 9, Jessica Parker 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 23-54 11-16 62.
CCU (8-12, 3-7) – AJ Jordan 2-7 2-2 6, Shatia Cole 7-22 6-7 20, Angelica Henry 2-10 1-2 7, Alexx Puckett 1-6 8-10 10, Katelyn Connor 3-7 3-4 9, Kayla Cook 2-10 5-7 10, Savanah Pippin 2-2 4, DJ Hunter 0-1 0-0 0, Keyaurna Wilson 1-1 2. Totals 19-65 25-32 66.
Halftime–Longwood 28-27. 3-Point Goals–Longwood 5-22 (Coward 1-7, Elkington 1-5, Skersick 0-1, Williams 0-1, Reagan 3-8), CCU 3-17 (Cole 0-6, Henry 2-5, Puckett 0-1, Cook 1-5). Fouled Out–Brown, Coward. Rebounds–Longwood 43 (Coward 10), CCU 41 (Jordan, Cook 7). Assists–Longwood 10 (Neal 4), CCU 8 (Jordan 3). Total Fouls–Longwood 24, CCU 12. Att.–N/A.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.