CONWAY — When Coastal Carolina visited UNC Asheville last month, senior point guard Kierre Greenwood found himself with the ball and game in his hands in the waning moments. His final 3-pointer was off the mark that night as the Chanticleers took a narrow loss, but fittingly, he got another shot at the Bulldogs on Tuesday night.
This time on his home court with the support of one of the louder crowds The HTC Center has hosted all season and the unwavering confidence of head coach Cliff Ellis that he was the man for the moment.
Taking an inbounds pass across half-court with 16.9 seconds remaining and the Chants down one point, Greenwood brought the ball up slowly and waited for his opening before darting into the lane and pulling up for a game-winning jumper to send Coastal to a 65-64 win over the visiting Bulldogs in the latest thrilling installment of what has become one of the Big South Conference’s better rivalries.
“I just tried to stay within the moment,” Greenwood said. “Somebody had to make a play, so that’s what I did.”
Greenwood’s final shot in that 63-60 loss in Asheville, N.C., last month came out of necessity because senior guard Anthony Raffa – the intended target of the play – had been well covered. But Tuesday night, Ellis was clear he wanted the game in the hands of his veteran point guard.
“I really have a lot of confidence [in him],” Ellis said. “I want the ball in his hands. If you look at his career over the years he’s been here, he’s had a lot of game-winning shots. I’m comfortable that he will make the right decision.”
Said Greenwood: “I’m most comfortable at that time more than any point of time in the game.”
Ellis thought UNC Asheville might send an extra defender Greenwood’s way once he started driving, but instead, he was able to create some space and a straight look at the basket, sinking the game-winner with 5.9 seconds on the clock. Junior Trent Meyer’s 3-point shot at the buzzer on the other end didn’t come close for the Bulldogs, and the Coastal students soon swarmed onto the court to celebrate the Chants’ win and Greenwood’s clutch performance.
“When he had the ball and he touched the paint, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s it,’” freshman forward Badou Diagne said of Greenwood. “I knew he would make it because that’s a shot he [makes] every time. We see it every time.”
The frenetic finish capped a game in which the lead changed sides seven times in the final five minutes. Ellis was waving his arms down the stretch to get the crowd of 2,424 on its feet, and the fans responded by creating a raucous backdrop for the back-and-forth duel.
Coastal (13-12, 8-6 Big South) had taken a 57-56 lead on a layup by Diagne with a little more than four minutes to play, but UNC Asheville (15-13, 9-5) answered quickly with a basket from senior Jeremy Atkinson. Junior center El Hadji Ndieguene soon put the Chants ahead again with a pair of free throws and a Greenwood basket made it 61-58, but the Bulldogs countered with the next four points. Raffa again gave Coastal the lead, 63-62, on two free throws with 35.8 seconds to play, but a D.J. Cunningham dunk at the other end gave it right back to the visitors before Ellis called timeout to setup the Chants’ final decisive shot.
“Ever since I’ve been here, Asheville’s always played us tough, since the Big South tournament my freshman year,” Greenwood said. “So even when guys left and [with] new guys they’ve had come in, it’s that tradition. It’s a tough game every time.”
The teams had split their last 10 meetings coming into the night, and Ellis added afterward, “Typical Coastal Carolina-UNC Asheville game.”
He also spoke of the crowd support, which the Chants are hoping will serve them well in March as they host the Big South tournament.
“Let me tell you what, that’s the most energy I’ve seen in here since the Clemson game,” Ellis said. “That’s the most energy. I thought the last five minutes with our defense, the crowd made an impact in this game.”
Raffa led Coastal with 22 points, Diagne added 12 and a few crowd-pleasing dunks in one his best efforts thus far and Greenwood finished with nine points and four steals.
Atkinson led UNC Asheville, which is still in the hunt for a first-round bye in the conference tournament, with 18 points. The Bulldogs were without sophomore starting guard Keith Hornsby, meanwhile, after he sustained a shoulder injury in practice.
In the end, it was another memorable clash between the two programs and perhaps it won’t be the last one of the season.
“It’s a prelude to what’s going to happen in the Big South Conference tournament,” Ellis said. “Because like I’ve said, there’s so many teams that play so well.”
UNC ASHEVILLE (15-13, 9-5 Big South) – Atkinson 6-13 6-8 18, Weeks 1-4 4-5 6, Cunningham 4-9 0-0 8, Littlejohn 4-7 2-2 12, Meyer 2-9 0-0 5, Neely 0-2 0-0 0, Hughes 4-4 0-0 11, Nwannunu 2-2 0-0 4, Roberts 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-50 12-15 64.
COASTAL CAROLINA (13-12, 8-6) – Diagne 4-8 4-6 12, Ndieguene 2-4 2-2 6, Gillis 3-8 0-0 6, Raffa 8-16 2-2 22, Greenwood 4-8 0-0 9, Ashford 0-0 0-0 0, Enanga 3-7 2-2 8, Ljeskovic 0-1 0-0 0, Daniel 0-0 0-0 0, Curtis 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 25-54 10-12 65.
Halftime–Tied 34-34. 3-Point Goals–UNC Asheville 6-15 (Hughes 3-3, Littlejohn 2-4, Meyer 1-6, Atkinson 0-2), Coastal Carolina 5-18 (Raffa 4-10, Greenwood 1-2, Enanga 0-1, Gillis 0-2, Diagne 0-3). Fouled Out–None. Rebounds–UNC Asheville 29 (Weeks 6), Coastal Carolina 30 (Ndieguene 9). Assists–UNC Asheville 14 (Meyer, Nwannunu 3), Coastal Carolina 14 (Gillis 5). Total Fouls–UNC Asheville 15, Coastal Carolina 18. Technicals–Cunningham, Ndieguene. A–2,424.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318 or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.