CONWAY — As sophomore forward Badou Diagne left the postgame interview room Saturday after helping the Coastal Carolina basketball team to a thorough win over Longwood, he was immediately stopped by a group of young fans who asked if they could take a picture with him.
A couple months ago, Diagne was barely earning playing time and logging goose eggs on the score sheet, looking lost in coach Cliff Ellis frontcourt rotation.
But now he has everybodys full attention while adding a missing dimension to a Chanticleers team whose conference championship hopes look stronger and stronger with each passing week.
Diagne had 16 points and eight rebounds and delivered five dunks in the process while helping Coastal to a 67-58 win over Longwood inside The HTC Center. It was his second straight big game and further proof that the seemingly massive potential contained within his 6-foot-7 frame is starting to surface.
I knew that he had the talent, Ellis said. You never know how long its going to take to adjust to Division I basketball, but theres no question that hes starting to show what we saw when we recruited him.
Coming off a 21-point, nine-rebound effort on Wednesday night, Diagne hit 8-of-12 shots and had a couple impressive drives to the basket in addition to his five dunks.
Ill take it anytime I can, Diagne said of his crowd-pleasing throw-downs. Josh found me a lot. I was wide open and he got a lot of looks [for] me.
That would be junior point guard Josh Cameron, who led Coastal (14-10, 7-3 Big South) with 17 points and added seven assists and seven rebounds. He did have six turnovers, which drew Ellis ire at several points in the game while even causing the veteran coach to jump in frustration at one point. But it was Camerons hot shooting early on that staked the Chants to a lead and he finished with a number of pretty dishes inside to teammates like Diagne.
You just have to let him play, Ellis said, complimenting Cameron as a key to the win.
Along with Diagnes recent emergence hes averaging 14.0 points and 7.0 rebounds over the last four games Camerons continued maturation in the point guard spot he seized eight games into the season has been another key factor in helping Coastal to seven wins in its last nine tries.
Early on, he did it with his own scoring, helping Coastal build a quick double-digit lead. Cameron turned his own steal into a fast-break layup, and after a Longwood basket at the other end, he poured in the next seven points to put the Chants up 17-7 with 11:39 remaining in the first half. That included back-to-back 3-pointers and a free throw while drawing a foul on one of those long-range makes.
He knocked down two more 3s in the first four minutes of the second half to peak the Chants lead at 17 points and then got his teammates going with his passing.
With Coastal up 45-35 midway through the second half, Cameron chipped in assists on three of the next four possessions including setting up one of Diagnes emphatic one-handed slams. Later in the half, after the Lancers (7-18, 2-8) had drawn to within eight points, he fed Diagne for open dunks on back-to-back possessions as the Chants maintained a comfortable margin.
Once you come out and hit shots, it opens up things for everybody else, Cameron said. So as I started hitting shots, they started collapsing a little more and I started finding my teammates.
He did bemoan those turnovers, meanwhile.
We were just trying to force things a little bit, he said. I had six turnovers today. Sometimes you get happy and you try to make the home run play all the time when you need to make the single.
Despite 16 turnovers as a team, though, the game never seemed in doubt as Longwood couldnt get any closer than seven points after halftime.
Ellis praised the teams defense, which held the Lancers to 32.8 percent shooting overall and just 2-of-18 from 3-point range.
Coastal, meanwhile, also got 14 points and six rebounds from freshman guard Elijah Wilson and overcame a sluggish offensive day from junior Warren Gillis who was scoreless in the first half before finishing with 11 points. But Ellis lauded Gillis defensive play on Longwood star forward Tristan Carey, who hit just 4-of-15 shots on the way to 16 points.
I knew the ball wasnt falling the way it could, but those days happen. Youve got to play defense, Ellis said.
With the win, Coastal remained tied with UNC Asheville atop the Big Souths South Division and finally got to enjoy a convincing victory at home. The Chants previous four conference home games had been decided by three points or less.
Isnt that about time, said Ellis, who has commented several times about the lack of home court advantage in the league this season.
Were in the race. Theres six games left and its like two tournaments now. Weve got a six-game [regular-season] tournament and a four-game tournament following that. Its a grind. All teams are tired. Youve got to manage yourself and come out and continue to play as hard as you can.
LONGWOOD (7-18): Ziegler 3-11 0-0 6, Havenstein 0-0 0-0 0, Woodhouse 1-9 2-2 4, Allen 5-9 2-2 12, Carey 4-15 6-7 16, Fisher 0-3 0-0 0, Belton 2-6 5-6 9, Dublin 5-8 1-3 11, Geter 0-0 0-2 0, Akers 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-61 16-22 58.
COASTAL CAROLINA (14-10): Diagne 8-12 0-0 16, Ndieguene 1-6 1-1 3, Gillis 1-7 9-11 11, Cameron 6-9 1-1 17, Wilson 5-12 2-2 14, Enanga 1-2 0-0 2, Ljeskovic 0-1 0-2 0, Curtis 0-0 0-0 0, Ray-St Cyr 1-4 1-2 4. Totals 23-53 14-19 67.
HalftimeCoastal Carolina 33-20. 3-Point GoalsLongwood 2-18 (Carey 2-8, Fisher 0-1, Allen 0-1, Belton 0-3, Woodhouse 0-5), Coastal Carolina 7-19 (Cameron 4-6, Wilson 2-6, Ray-St Cyr 1-3, Diagne 0-2, Gillis 0-2). Fouled OutNone. ReboundsLongwood 33 (Carey 9), Coastal Carolina 45 (Ndieguene 10). AssistsLongwood 7 (Woodhouse 4), Coastal Carolina 16 (Cameron 7). Total FoulsLongwood 19, Coastal Carolina 14. ANA.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.