CONWAY — Cliff Ellis says he’s never been on a road trip quite like the one his Coastal Carolina basketball team endured this week, and that’s saying something for a coach who has been working in the college ranks since the early 1970s.
After a momentous come-from-behind win at VMI on Wednesday night, the Chanticleers stayed overnight before beginning their snowy trek home from Virginia early Thursday morning. It would be about 21 hours and several setbacks later before the team bus finally pulled back onto campus around 5 a.m. Friday.
And less than 12 hours after that, the Chants were already back on the court at The HTC Center getting in one final practice before a home game against Gardner-Webb on Saturday night that will continue what has become a rather wild week for the team.
“The strangest [trip],” Ellis said, recounting the story. “Unforeseen circumstances. We did the right thing with the weather, staying overnight and getting up the next morning. We thought everything would be good, and I guess we were really 10 or 12 miles from getting through the worst part of it and then we got to Mount Airy, N.C., and there had been some tractor-trailer rigs that jack-knifed and were in the middle of the interstate and we were gridlocked. There was nothing we could do.”
The Coastal bus came to a halt on Interstate 77/74 a little after noon Thursday and would remain there for the next 12 hours. The players watched a couple movies, Ellis and his coaches watched film of Gardner-Webb and the time passed easily enough – until the bus lost power, that is.
“I’ve never experienced anything like that,” junior guard Warren Gillis said of the experience. “Like every hour we thought we were about to leave and we ended up staying for about 12 hours. … The phones started dying, laptops started dying, electricity went off and we just ended up talking for about four or five hours.”
With the snow stopped, the players got some fresh air and some built a snowman on the side of the road – replete with a Chants jersey – that made the rounds on Twitter throughout the day.
“We had team bonding. It was cool, but tiring at the same time,” sophomore forward Badou Diagne said. “We were just trying to find something to do. It was boring. People wanted to play on the snow.”
Even though the traffic jam eased a little after 7 p.m., Ellis said, the Chants were still stuck because their bus was now dealing with issues of its own. There was a backup plan to have another bus come and fetch the team, but it couldn’t get to them and the wait continued.
Eventually, someone was sent from Conway to come meet the team and fix the bus, which got moving again around midnight but continued shutting down on the way home, stretching the trip out longer and longer.
“The bottom line is it was a [nearly 21]-hour trip. I went to visit my daughter in Australia and it took me 27 hours,” Ellis said. “So anyway, it was long ordeal.”
The question now is how well the Chants (15-10, 8-3 Big South) can shake off the wear of the road and get ready to play a streaking Gardner-Webb team (14-12, 7-4) that has won seven of nine games since losing 81-69 to Coastal last month in Boiling Springs, N.C.
The Chants have an ever tenuous one-game lead atop the Big South’s South Division standings with the Runnin’ Bulldogs and two other teams all bunched in a tie for second place.
Despite the ordeal the last two days, Ellis stressed the Chants don’t have time to dwell on the situation – not with their division lead at stake yet again.
“There’s no denying the situation, but we absolutely have to look at this and can not use that [as an excuse],” he said. “Yes, it’s a difficult situation, but we’ve just got to manage this circumstance. And to be honest with you, I’ve never been on a road trip like that, but we can’t control it. Has Gardner-Webb had more preparation? They played Tuesday night, yes. Are they fresher? Yes. Let’s just see how we deal with it.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.