Missed free throws down the stretch cost Coastal Carolina dearly in a close loss to Texas State on Saturday.
Unfortunately for the Chanticleers, those woes continued Monday against UT Arlington as they missed eight free throws in the final minutes to watch a 16-point advantage dwindle.
CCU never gave up, though, and ensured it came out on top despite letting the Blaze get within 1 point with just 20 seconds left as the Chants pulled out a big 72-70 Sun Belt Conference victory over UTA at the HTC Center.
"I’m proud of our team for getting the win. The biggest thing is getting the win against a team that’s as good as Texas Arlington. I thought our defense gave us a great chance to win this game and did what it needed to do," said Ellis, whose team snapped a three-game losing streak and is sixth in the conference standings at 5-4. "We made enough shots, and I really felt like we did the right things offensively; we did what we needed to do. Defensively, we contained them and it’s just a huge win."
The Chants (10-12, 5-4 SBC) took a 35-30 lead into halftime despite shooting 9-of-30 (30 percent) from the field, including 3-of-21 (14.3 percent) shooting from the 3-point arc.
Ironically enough, it was Coastal Carolina’s free throw shooting in the first half that propelled it as the Chants started out 14-of-15 from the charity stripe before going cold at the line in the second half (7-of-17) to finish 65 percent in the category.
"I’m not going to dwell on it, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know [free throw shooting] is not there. But we won the game," said Ellis, whose team previously fell, 90-69 to UTA. "That’s what matters and we have to get better in that area; there’s no doubt about that. I think these guys know and understand it’s a mental thing and we have to correct it. We lost a game Saturday because of it. We could be 6-3, but we can’t look at that. We’re 5-4 and were able to win, and that’s what we’re going to dwell on is the fact that we found a way to win the game. That’s the bottom line."
Junior guard Jaylen Shaw came out with the hot hand for CCU, scoring 14 of his 20 points in the first half to pace the Chants. Demario Beck stepped up once again, picking up his fifth double-double of the year with 15 points and a career-high 16 rebounds.
"That’s what I live for, man," Beck said. "I just do what I do – do my part."
Elijah Wilson scored 10, and Colton Ray-St Cyr added eight to round out the scoring for Coastal Carolina, which finished 22-of-59 (37.3 percent) from the field. The Chants finished with 13 turnovers, committing just two in the second half, and they outrebounded the Blaze 51-43 while outscoring them 15-9 in second chance points, an advantage Ellis saw as crucial.
"That was huge. Huge," he said.
Kevin Hervey shot 75 percent (9-of-12) for a game-high 23 points to go along with 12 rebounds, while Erick Neal added 10 points, four rebounds and three assists, and Jorge Bilbao grabbed 13 rebounds to go along with eight points to lead UTA.
The Blaze took down then-No. 12 ranked Saint Mary’s and the Big 12’s Texas Longhorns this season and had won four straight heading into Monday. UTA moves to 16-6 overall and are tied for fourth at 6-3 in conference play.
It was a statement win for the Chants, who are looking to get back on track after a 4-1 start in the conference as they travel to Arkansas for a pair of tough matches. First, CCU has a 7 p.m. meeting with Little Rock on Saturday before an 8 p.m. match against Arkansas State on Monday. Ellis sees it as another huge test for his Chants.
"We’re through with the first half, we’re above .500 now and we have to get on this road where it’s tough and try to dig something out. But I like the way we played tonight with regard to execution and it was a win," Ellis said. "… This is going to be a very demanding road trip. We’re going to have to work like heck just to get something."