RADFORD, Va. — As his Coastal Carolina basketball team closed out yet another road win Saturday afternoon, Cliff Ellis walked down the sideline high-fiving his players in a modest show of celebration a bit out of character for the veteran coach.
But for all the uncertainty and questions that surrounded this team at the start of the season, Ellis and his players have every reason to be feeling good at this point.
Were getting to be road warriors, he said. Im proud of our team. This is a big win to come in here and beat a team like Radford, an experienced basketball team. And to come in here and pull it off on the road, this is huge for us. We just have to keep moving forward.
That certainly appears to be the direction the Chanticleers are heading as they knocked off Radford, 69-61, before a crowd of 2,349 inside the Dedmon Center for their fourth win in the last five games and third straight road win overall.
Freshman guard Elijah Wilson scored a game-high 22 points including 17 after halftime junior guard Warren Gillis added 16 and junior point guard Josh Cameron had 14 as the backcourt led the way again.
Perhaps most impressively, though, the Chants (11-9, 4-2 Big South) held off the Highlanders (13-8, 3-3) despite not making a field goal for the final six minutes. They didnt need to while going 12-of-12 from the free throw line in the final 4:38.
Were growing. Were growing, Ellis said. And again, why Im so proud of this team and I say it win or lose six out of our top nine guys are underclassmen and we didnt have a player that had played here. Thats shocking. We did not have a player on our roster thats ever played a game here, and for us to go win this game with what I think is an experienced team says a lot for how were growing.
Coastal hadnt played a road game at Radford since the 2010-11 season, and beyond not having a player left from that team, the Chants only have one Gillis who has even played more than a season and a half now with the program.
After an uneven start to this season where that youth showed up in big ways not always positively the Chants have hit their stride. Their lone loss in the last five games was a one-point overtime defeat to Winthrop, and with their win Saturday they remain right near the top of the Big South race with UNC Asheville, the conferences South Division leader by a game entering the day, yet to play until later in the evening.
Thats not to say anything came easy Saturday.
After Coastal had led for nearly all of the first half, Radford pulled ahead just before halftime on a 3-pointer from Ya Ya Anderson to make it a 33-32 game.
But Wilson, the Chants rookie standout, found his comfort zone immediately after the break while leading the visitors back ahead. After draining a mid-range jumper on Coastals first possession of the second half before the teams traded baskets, Wilson followed with back-to-back 3-pointers from the right side to give the guests a 42-37 lead.
I struggled a little bit in the first half, but when I came out of the locker room, I just told myself Im going to find a way to push out of the little slump and help my team get a win, Wilson said.
Radfords Javonte Green tied the game at 43-43 on a layup and free throw, but Wilson scored a layup the next time down court and the Chants led the rest of the way while fending off every Highlanders push.
It was a one-point game with less than five minutes to play when Coastal went to work at the foul line. Ndieguene made the first two, Gillis followed by knocking down his two free throws, Ndieguene converted two more, then it was Wilson, Gillis and Wilson again taking their turns at the stripe none missing as the lead finally started to swell again in the final minute.
We all just try to go up there with confidence, and that confidence led us to knock down the free throws and help us win the game, Wilson said.
As for Wilson, it was his fifth 20-point game and he continues to lead the team in scoring at 16.1 points per game while earning the respect of his elder teammates.
Hes special, really. And what you see Elijah do now, its not easy, Ndieguene said. [He] works hard, really. Every day hes at the gym. Every time I go to the gym, I see Elijah. When were done hes the first there, hes the last there. When you work hard, thats what you get.
Ndieguene, meanwhile, played his best game since returning from a back injury earlier this month, finishing with eight points and a game-high 10 rebounds. He hadnt scored more than two points in any of the previous four games.
Radford was led by 16 points off the bench by Rashun Davis while Anderson added 15 and Green had 14 points, five rebounds, four blocks and two steals.
All in all, it was a good day for the Chants and, perhaps more importantly, a good sign of what is to come.
I think it says a lot because last year at this time I think we only had one road win and that was against Longwood, so now we have three already, Ndieguene said. That says a lot [about] our maturity for the guys that were here. At the same time, the new guys, I think they came in ready to play.
COASTAL CAROLINA (11-9): Gillis 4-8 8-8 16, Cameron 6-16 1-2 14, Ndieguene 2-5 4-4 8, Wilson 7-19 5-6 22, Diagne 0-1 0-0 0, Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Enanga 2-4 0-1 4, Ljeskovic 0-3 1-3 1, Ray-St Cyr 2-3 0-0 4. Totals 23-59 19-24 69.
RADFORD (13-8): Green 5-13 4-7 14, Price 2-9 0-1 5, Anderson 5-10 0-0 15, Noreen 0-3 0-0 0, Holcomb 1-1 3-4 5, Brown 0-2 0-0 0, Davis 6-13 2-4 16, Dickerson 0-2 0-0 0, Cousin 1-1 0-0 2, Carethers 2-3 0-0 4. Totals 22-57 9-16 61.
HalftimeRadford 33-32. 3-Point GoalsCoastal Carolina 4-14 (Wilson 3-7, Cameron 1-6, Gillis 0-1), Radford 8-26 (Anderson 5-9, Davis 2-5, Price 1-7, Green 0-1, Noreen 0-2, Dickerson 0-2). Fouled OutNone. ReboundsCoastal Carolina 42 (Ndieguene 10), Radford 35 (Anderson 7). AssistsCoastal Carolina 6 (Diagne, Gillis 2), Radford 10 (Anderson, Davis, Noreen 2). Total FoulsCoastal Carolina 18, Radford 19. A2,349.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.