CONWAY — The Coastal Carolina men’s basketball team gave itself a considerable boost Wednesday night in its quest to rally for a regular-season division championship, but regardless of where the Chanticleers finish in the Big South Conference standings they’ve made something very clear to the rest of the league.
Records and seeding aside, they’re going to be quite an obstacle when the conference tournament comes to Conway next month.
The Chants won their eighth-straight home game Wednesday while humbling Big South leader Charleston Southern on the way to a thoroughly dominant 73-53 victory before a crowd of 2,373 inside The HTC Center.
The Buccaneers came into the night as the team to beat with their lone league loss coming by one point in overtime. But the Chants, for all their rough edges and flaws, don’t seem to care who is on the other side when they’re on their own court as they’ve won those last eight home games by an average margin of 20.6 points now.
“All around, this may be the best we’ve played because our defense was superb,” CCU coach Cliff Ellis said. “We took the 3-point shots away. They didn’t make 3-point shots – that’s not going to happen very often – but at the same time we had offensive production. We were knocking shots down, and I thought we did a great job. When you look at our rebounding, you look at our defense, you look at our percentages with regards to shooting the basketball, without questions this is maybe the best game that we’ve played in some time. The Clemson game was almost a perfect pitch, but outside of that, this was very close to that.”
Coastal (11-10, 6-4 Big South) remains two games behind Charleston Southern (12-8, 7-2) in the loss column of the conference’s South Division standings while UNC Asheville (14-10, 8-2) surged into first place Wednesday night, but with games remaining against both teams, the Chants have kept themselves in the regular-season title conversation for now.
As for this latest statement win, sophomore guard Warren Gillis led Coastal with 19 points, while senior guard Anthony Raffa scored 17, senior point guard Kierre Greenwood had 16, freshman forward Michel Enanga added 12 points and 10 rebounds and junior center El Hadji Ndieguene had seven points and 12 boards.
Meanwhile, Charleston Southern – which entered the night leading the Big South in 3-point shooting – had a woeful evening from the perimeter, connecting on just 6 of 32 3s (18.8 percent).
“We haven’t been whipped like that in a long time, since the [Big South] tournament when UNC Asheville did that to us,” Buccaneers coach Barclay Radebaugh said. “Arizona, Wichita State, none of them could do that to us. [Coastal] played very, very well. They played very hard. They won every aspect of the game.”
Coastal scored the last eight points before halftime to build a 37-23 lead and never let the game get closer than 10 points the rest of the way. For that matter, when the Buccaneers did draw to within 42-32, the Chants scored the next 15 points – including six from Enanga, who played perhaps his best game in a Coastal uniform.
Greenwood said he, for one, wasn’t surprised by the outcome.
“Not really. We play so well at home so I expected us to hit shots,” he said. “This is our gym. We practice here, so I expected us to hit shots. I didn’t expect them to miss as many shots as they did knowing that they shoot the ball real well, but everything worked in our favor.”
Sophomore Arlon Harper led Charleston Southern with a game-high 21 points, but he went cold after scoring 15 in the first half. As did the rest of the Buccaneers for that matter. Radebaugh was complimentary of the Chants’ defense in particular while noting the struggles his teams have had against Ellis’ Coastal squads. The Chants have now won the last seven meetings in the series.
“We’ve had a time with Coastal,” Radebaugh said. “We’ve been very successful against the rest of the league, and we’ve had a time with Coastal. I can’t figure it out.”
As good as Coastal has been at home, though, they’re just 1-8 on the road and now travel for back-to-back away game at High Point and Presbyterian.
“We have got to just continue to focus on one game at a time,” Ellis said. “We’re a team that’s getting better. We’re in a 16-game [conference] race in which we’ve kind of been back and forth, but I think we’re gaining momentum.”
NOTES: Ndieguene returned to action after missing the last game due to recurring headaches. He was sent to see several doctors to be cleared to continue playing and logged 25 minutes off the bench in his return to the court. The 6-foot-10 center had started Coastal’s first 19 games.
“He hadn’t played in a week, but I thought with exception to stamina he did a pretty good job,” Ellis said. “We’ve got him down the stretch. The doctors have cleared him. He’s going to have these headaches and he’s got to contend with it, but the good thing is we know we’ve got him for the rest of the year.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.