Cliff Ellis and the Coastal Carolina men’s basketball team have a New Year’s resolution.
And that’s to be competitive in the Chanticleers’ first conference slate as a member of the Sun Belt after leaving the Big South Conference.
Coastal Carolina will ring in the New Year as it travels to Texas to play UT-Arlington in the Chanticleers’ first-ever Sun Belt matchup in a much-anticipated game Saturday at 5:30 p.m. against the Mavericks, who are 10-3 and were picked in a preseason vote to be the conference champions.
“It’s going to be a tough trip. Not only do we play one of the best teams in the conference right off the bat, but we have turn around and go play Texas State and we’ll see what we’re made of out there,” Ellis said after a 75-74 loss to Wofford last week in the team’s non-conference finale. “I feel like we’re ready. But like I said, we’ll see when we get out there. We know it’s going to be tough. We’re not in the Big South anymore.”
Ellis’ players have total confidence in the coach who once helped form the Sun Belt as a coach of South Alabama from 1975 to 1984 before coaching at Auburn, Clemson and finally CCU, where he’s been since 2007.
With six newcomers, the Chants had to make adjustments against tough opponents and get their chemistry going at the same time. Coastal Carolina is 5-8 overall as it enters the slate, but Ellis’ players believe and trust in him and are eager to see what they can do as everyone starts out at 0-0 in conference play.
“We’ve known the potential since day one, we just knew we had to put in the work,” senior Colton Ray St-Cyr said. “We have a real good coach leading us and we have total trust in him. He’ll have his plans for us and when he puts together a scouting report, you pretty much know it’s going to be 100 percent accurate. I just want to see what we can do when it matters.”
The Chants are led by Elijah Wilson, who is one of the top scorers in the league at 15.6 points per game, while senior Jaylen Shaw is averaging 12.8 points per game and first-year player Demario Beck has posted 10.1 points per game and a team-high 7.8 rebounds per contest.
“We’ve had basically a new team from what we had last year. But we’re all getting adjusted and we’ve been grinding and gelling together,” Wilson said. “Hopefully that will continue into conference play.”
Ellis is impressed with his team and feels they are on an even keel.
“I’ve liked what I’ve seen from them, honestly. There’s been lots of improvement. I feel like they’re all getting along and they’ve stepped up,” he said. “Every time they’re on the floor they know their job and they know what’s expected. It’s good to have everyone on the same page as we get into conference play.”
And Ellis knows Coastal Carolina won’t have an easy road ahead, but that’s why the early season slate was filled with tough tasks.
“I think this team is up for the challenge. We’ve had an extremely tough non-conference schedule, played some great teams and the biggest thing is that I think we learned a lot about ourselves as we head into conference play,” Ellis said. “Now I’m not guaranteeing anything, but I think we should be able to keep up and be competitive out there. There are some great teams in this league and we’re going to have our hands full every night.”