CONWAY — The wire-to-wire result may be misleading, because it didn’t come easily for the Coastal Carolina women on senior day at The HTC Center.
The Chanticleers overcame two scoring droughts of close to five minutes for a 57-50 win over Presbyterian College on Saturday.
“Us seniors made a bet, the first one to cry has to do something for everybody, so it’s really emotional,” senior Angelica Henry said, although her team did make it through the senior day ceremony without tears. “We all were already pumped and ready to go, and it showed in the first half.”
Coastal (13-14, 9-9 Big South) led by as many as 16 midway through the second half; then the scoring stopped. Presbyterian (10-17, 8-10) cut the deficit to 45-44 with 6:40 left, but was never able to tie or take the lead.
“Out there on the floor sometimes we don’t even see the score, we’re just playing. But when we looked up and saw we were up one, we were like ‘Oh no, we need to hit the pedal now,’ ” senior Alexx Puckett said, harkening back to their overtime loss to Presbyterian earlier this year. “We were just all motivating each other out there.”
Despite floundering a bit in the second half, an early surge that gave Coastal a 10-point lead in the opening minutes served to be the deciding edge. Puckett, who noted the senior day atmosphere gave her added intensity at the start, dropped in eight of Coastal’s first 12 points to set the tone. The Chants maintained a healthy margin throughout the first half, leading 34-23 at the break.
Puckett played every minute of the game, a welcome sight to her family, which had travelled from Indianapolis to watch her play.
“I was really excited. I wanted to make sure I did well, not only for myself not only for my teammates, but for them too. This is the last game they’ll probably get to see me play in my college career,” Puckett said. “I really don’t even realize that I’m out there for 40 minutes. … that’s just how the game went today.”
Puckett finished with team highs of 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists. She was joined by fellow post player and senior Katelyn O’Connor, who also netted 14 points. First-year coach Jaida Williams noted the duo as a big reason Coastal was able to hold on after Presbyterian made its second half push, along with the senior leadership.
“I think our post players have decided they’re going to do their part from here on out. They did a great job and I’m really proud of them for putting together a pretty good defensive output,” she said. “I think having the senior leadership, especially on senior night, helped us a ton. [Henry, Puckett, Connor and Kayla Cook’s] will to win just superseded everything else tonight.”
It is a senior core that makes up four of the five starters – junior AJ Jordan is the team’s leading scorer and netted 12 points on Saturday – and one Williams said she is enjoying while she has it.
“They always tell me the second year is a little bit harder than the first because of the fact that we’re losing so much senior leadership,” she said. “… I’m just enjoying now, and right now I’m really, really proud of them.”
With two games left in the regular season and the Big South tournament ahead, the Chants still have work to come. With the win and Gardner-Webb’s loss to Campbell earlier in the day, Coastal has a chance to secure a first-round bye in the conference championship. Both teams are .500 in conference, and a matchup on the Bulldogs’ home court will likely decide who gets the No. 5 seed in the upcoming tournament at the HTC Center.
Though the game comes with added significance, Williams said her senior-laden squad won’t be fazed.
“[Gardner-Webb’s] going to be ready. We just need to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves,” Williams said. “We’re going to prepare for the game like we prepare for any other game, and give it our best shot.”
Contact JEFF NOWAK at 444-1767.