ROCK HILL — It’s been a while since the Coastal Carolina men’s basketball team had a helpless feeling set in during the final moments of a game, since it didn’t at least take another team down to the final shot or possession or extra period.
For the first time since their Big South opener back in early January, the Chanticleers watched the final seconds tick down knowing they had let one get away from them.
Winthrop completed the season sweep over Coastal with a 75-65 win before a crowd of 1,762 inside the Winthrop Coliseum, tightening up the conference’s South Division standings yet again.
“This is a win that both teams needed,” Coastal coach Cliff Ellis said. “We needed it to get complete separation; Winthrop gets it, they’re back in the race. But this is the way it’s going to be on the road. We knew it was going to be a tough ballgame. We’ve got a tough ballgame Saturday [at UNC Asheville]. We’ve got tough games the rest of the way out. Everything is in the trenches now. You’ve just got to battle.”
Coastal (16-11, 9-4 Big South) still holds a one-game lead over Winthrop (15-11, 8-5) and UNC Asheville in the division, and it was just the third loss in the last 12 games for the Chants with the other two coming by a combined four points – including a 73-72 overtime loss at home to the Eagles last month.
As for this one, junior guard Warren Gillis scored a career-high 25 points for the Chants while freshman guard Elijah Wilson had 17. Winthrop, meanwhile, had five players score in double figures, led by guard Andre Smith’s 16.
The glaring stat on the box score, though, was 49 – the number of combined fouls called in the game.
Gillis and Ellis insisted it wasn’t a factor in the outcome, noting that it was called both ways (Winthrop actually had more fouls with 26), but it was hard not to notice a difference in the Chants with junior point guard Josh Cameron, sophomore starting forward Badou Diagne and sophomore reserve forward Michel Enanga all picking up their fourth fouls with just under 12 minutes remaining.
“It’s the rules, and we saw that early. You know, if you take it to the hole and a guy’s not in position, that’s it,” Ellis said. “Both teams shot foul shots well, so it really wasn’t a factor that was against one team or another. … Both teams fouled, but ours were coming from the same people. So to their credit, they did not get in serious foul trouble personnel-wise. We did. … But it was called that way both ways, so I don’t have any complaints about that.”
Cameron, the team’s second-leading scorer, picked up his fourth foul on the defensive end with 14:59 remaining and would play only 12 minutes after halftime. The offense didn’t flow the same without him, and after shooting 65 percent from the field in the first half the Chants shot 31.6 percent after halftime, making just five field goals after Cameron got that fourth foul.
“It’s definitely frustrating because when you go sit down on the bench for a long time, you’re not really into the game,” Cameron said. “I’m into it, but I’m not getting into a rhythm for the game. It affected me, but it happens sometimes.”
That said, it was mostly a tight game, with 14 ties and 15 lead changes.
Coastal grabbed its last lead on a 3-pointer by Enanga with 10:30 remaining to go up 53-51.
Forward Joab Jerome quickly tied it for Winthrop on a layup, though, and the Eagles later went ahead for good on a 3-pointer by point guard Keon Johnson with 6:27 to play.
It was a five-point game when the hosts got a key defensive play as forward Larry Brown stole a routine inbound pass and converted a quick layup to push the lead to 66-59 with just more than two minutes remaining.
Coastal never got it closer than five points the rest of the way, and Smith delivered the dagger on a 3-pointer from the right corner with 1:02 left to make it 69-61.
Ellis singled out Winthrop’s 32-26 rebounding edge – specifically Brown’s seven offensive boards – and the Eagles’ 7-3 advantage in 3-pointers as keys.
It was hard not to look at the foul trouble that shuffled up the Chants’ rotation a bit down the stretch, though.
Nonetheless, they remain in control of their Big South division title hopes with three games remaining.
“We’ve got to move on,” Gillis said. “We’ve had some tough losses this year. This is the third tough loss we’ve had. We’ll bounce back. We still have an opportunity Saturday to put some space in the standings, so we’ve got to move on.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.