CONWAY — Back and forth the lead went throughout the second half. A 3-pointer for Gardner-Webb, a mid-range jumper for Coastal Carolina, a put-back for the Runnin’ Bulldogs, a pair of free throws for the Chanticleers. More 3s, more foul shots, more scoreboard shuffling.
In the ever-changing, ever-tenuous Big South Conference standings, both teams entered Saturday evening still very much alive in the South Division championship race but with no remaining margin for error. And they played like it.
A month to the day after Gardner-Webb slid past Coastal Carolina on a buzzer-beating layup, the Runnin’ Bulldogs eventually edged the Chants again for a pivotal 70-63 win before a crowd of 2,186 inside The HTC Center.
With the win, Gardner-Webb (16-11, 8-5 Big South) remains two games back in the loss column behind division leader Charleston Southern (14-9, 9-3).
The Chants (12-12, 7-6) play both of those teams over their final three conference games, but having dropped to fourth place in the division with this loss, the reality of their regular-season fate is settling in now.
“We were in a race to get us maybe second, first place. We fell short of that tonight,” senior guard Anthony Raffa said. “Give all the credit to Gardner-Webb. They came here and executed their game plan pretty well.”
Raffa scored a game-high 22 points for Coastal, while senior point guard Kierre Greenwood had 13 and sophomore guard Warren Gillis added 12 in the loss. Sophomore Donta Harper led Gardner-Webb with 17 points, spurred by a 13-of-16 performance from the foul line.
The teams combined for 20 lead changes in the game – 13 in the second half – with neither side able to gain much separation.
Coastal was in its best position early in the second half after Raffa drained a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer from the left side and Greenwood knocked down one of two free throws for a 36-30 lead. But true to the tenor of the game, the Runnin’ Bulldogs scored the next seven points – including a pair of 3s from seniors Tashan Newsome and Kevin Hartley – to quickly take back the lead.
It was more of the same from there. Back and forth, back and forth.
Greenwood gave Coastal its final lead with 2:45 remaining when he turned a steal into a fast-break layup for a 63-61 advantage, but again Gardner-Webb answered while scoring the next nine points.
And this time the Chants couldn’t return the volley.
“In the end, they made just a few more plays,” CCU coach Cliff Ellis said. “It got down to the last couple of minutes, and bang, it just all of a sudden things just didn’t go the way we needed it to go. We were right there. ... They’re a good team. They’re a very good team. They proved it. They proved it again.”
Ellis and Raffa both noted the disparity in free throws as Gardner-Webb hit 24-of-30 shots from the line while the Chants were 10-of-16.
Coastal had won its last eight home games by an average margin of 20.6 points with its last home defeat coming way back on Dec. 6 against Boston.
Gardner-Webb, meanwhile, has been one of the hottest teams in the league of late with wins in six of their last seven games.
“Give a lot of credit to Gardner-Webb. They’re just road killers,” Ellis said. “In non-conference play they did it, and now they’ve won this one tonight, they’ve gone to Asheville and won and they gone to Charleston Southern and won and you’ve got to give them credit. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit.”
GARDNER-WEBB (16-11) – Harper 2-5 13-16 17, Hartley 3-6 2-2 11, Hill 1-3 2-4 4, Strange 2-6 0-0 5, Newsome 5-13 3-4 14, Branch 0-3 0-0 0, Landis 1-4 4-4 7, Ivey 0-1 0-0 0, Davis 3-3 0-0 8, Hensley 0-0 0-0 0, Byron 2-3 0-0 4. Totals 19-47 24-30 70.
COASTAL CAROLINA (12-12) – Diagne 3-8 0-2 6, Ndieguene 2-5 1-1 5, Gillis 4-13 4-4 12, Raffa 8-17 0-2 22, Greenwood 4-8 5-6 13, Enanga 1-1 0-0 3, Daniel 0-0 0-0 0, Curtis 1-2 0-1 2. Totals 23-54 10-16 63.
Halftime–Coastal Carolina 32-28. 3-Point Goals–Gardner-Webb 8-18 (Hartley 3-6, Davis 2-2, Newsome 1-3, Landis 1-3, Strange 1-4), Coastal Carolina 7-20 (Raffa 6-10, Enanga 1-1, Greenwood 0-1, Diagne 0-3, Gillis 0-5). Fouled Out–Enanga. Rebounds–Gardner-Webb 35 (Hartley 7), Coastal Carolina 31 (Ndieguene 7). Assists–Gardner-Webb 10 (Strange 5), Coastal Carolina 11 (Greenwood 5). Total Fouls–Gardner-Webb 17, Coastal Carolina 24. Technical–Ndieguene. A–2,186.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.