Charleston Southern clinches division championship with win over CCU

ryoung@thesunnews.comMarch 2, 2013 

  • More information Next game Who | No. 5-seeded Liberty vs. No. 4 Coastal Carolina Where | The HTC Center, Conway When | 8 p.m. Tuesday Radio | WSEA-FM 100.3

CHARLESTON Coastal Carolina’s regular-season ended Saturday with another humbling road defeat, but fortunately for the Chanticleers they won’t have to play any more games away from home in their pursuit for a postseason berth.

Charleston Southern drained 15 3-pointers and overcame an early 11-point deficit to roll to a 75-64 win over the Chants inside CSU Field House, clinching the Big South Conference’s South Division championship. The Buccaneers led by as many as 20 points in the second half and later doused coach Barclay Radebaugh with an ice bath on the court as they celebrated the program’s first regular-season title since 1996-97.

Coastal, meanwhile, will settle for the fourth seed out of the South as it hosts the Big South tournament next week at The HTC Center. The Chants (14-14 overall, 9-7 in conference) will open play Tuesday night against Liberty, the fifth seed from the North.

“It’s a new season now,” senior guard Anthony Raffa said. “One game at a time. We’ve got a game Tuesday. You lose, you’re done. Survive and advance, that’s how it is. I think we’ll be prepared going into next week, and the tournament’s on our home court so we’ve got to defend our home court.”

Raffa scored a game-high 23 points Saturday in the loss for Coastal and finishes the regular season second in the conference in scoring at 19.0 points per game. Sophomore guard Warren Gillis added 19 points.

Senior Mathiang Muo led Charleston Southern (17-11, 12-4) with 17 points, while sophomores Saah Nimley and Arlon Harper scored 15 each.

Coastal built an 11-0 lead to start the game, but the Buccaneers got hot from the perimeter and soon took control while taking a 38-30 lead into halftime. They peaked their advantage at 64-44 midway through the second half while coasting comfortably the rest of the way.

The key stats were Coastal’s 12 first-half turnovers and Charleston Southern’s impressive perimeter shooting performance as they finished 15-of-34 from 3-point range after shooting just 6-of-32 from the outside in a 73-53 loss to the Chants when the teams met last month.

“We opened [their] confidence up with our turnovers,” CCU coach Cliff Ellis said. “We had 12 turnovers in the first half. We came out like gangbusters not turning the ball over -- it was 11-0, we really had them in a good position -- but then we started turning the ball over, and it opened up opportunity for them to score. But when you have a 15-3 disparity at the 3-point line, that’s a difference of 12. Twelve times three in my math is 36 points. But that’s why they’re the champions in our league.

“That’s why throughout the whole course of the year this is the team that has proven through a 16-game race that they’re the No. 1 team. They deserved it, they played extremely well, they’re a tough team to beat here and they showed that today.”

Not only had the Chants won convincingly when the teams met in Conway a few weeks ago, but they had won seven-straight games in the overall series with Charleston Southern. Radebaugh credited a defensive adjustment on Coastal senior point guard Kierre Greenwood, who finished with five points on 2-of-5 shooting, as a key to snapping that dubious streak.

“Kierre had beaten us seven times in a row; we had never beaten him,” Radebaugh said. “So we made some adjustments. We hedged the ball screens. The whole goal was to keep him in front, and it really helped us [with] him not getting in the lane and making plays.”

Radebaugh addressed the crowd after the victory and told the fans that the players would not be cutting down the nets to celebrate the regular-season championship because their work was not done. The Big South tournament will determine which team gets to move on to the NCAA tournament, and there’s a handful of schools with a legitimate shot to claim that berth.

“It is very emotional. It’s been a journey,” Radebaugh said. “It’s been a great journey with a lot of people involved, a lot of coaches, a lot of administrators working really hard. This is just something that we’ve been striving for. It was one of our goals to win the regular-season, to advance into postseason play. We’re guaranteed an NIT bid at least, and it’s just an emotional day for us. ...

“They didn’t want to cut down the nets. The seniors came to me, and they said they didn’t want to cut them down. They said their job’s not done. They said this was a goal, not the goal.”

As for the Chants, they’ll return home in preparation for their tournament opener Tuesday against Liberty (11-20, 6-10). They lost to the Flames, 64-56, in Lynchburg, Va., back in January, but they’ve been a different team at home while going 12-3 inside The HTC Center this season with just one home conference loss.

Coastal will need to win four games in six days to win the championship and vault itself into the NCAA field, but if nothing else, the Chants have proven to be pretty formidable in familiar surroundings.

“I told our team, when you look at the things we’ve done at home, we’ve beaten a top-25 team in Akron, we’ve beaten a Clemson team, we lost one game in our conference,” Ellis said. “We’ve got to keep that [home-court edge]. We’ve got to keep that.”

Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.

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