Coastal Carolina’s will to continue its season was tested by Loyola University Maryland on Monday night.
The Greyhounds, who upset heavily-favored George Mason by 17 points in the opening round of the College Basketball Invitational, stunned the Chanticleers by racing out to an 18-2 lead in the opening eight minutes of their CBI second round game at the HTC Center.
But CCU recovered, nearly caught the Greyhounds by halftime and pulled away in the final minutes to claim a 72-63 win and pull within three wins of claiming the CBI title.
“These guys really brought it at the beginning of the game and kind of punched us in the face,” said junior guard Jaylen Shaw, who scored a game-high 22 points. “But we handled it. We got down but fought back little by little.”
More than an hour after its win, Coastal (18-17) learned from CBI officials that it will host Illinois-Chicago at 7 p.m. Wednesday night in the semifinals. Illinois-Chicago (17-18), which finished sixth in the Horizon League, defeated George Washington 80-71 at home Monday night.
Utah Valley and Wyoming will battle in the other semifinal. The finals next week will be a three-game series.
“We’re very fortunate to even be in this position we’re in now because I know we didn’t have the season we wanted to have,” senior guard Elijah Wilson said. “We’re really thankful we were able to play in this postseason tournament so we’re trying to make the most out of it each and every game.”
We’re very fortunate to even be in this position we’re in now because I know we didn’t have the season we wanted to have. We’re really thankful we were able to play in this postseason tournament so we’re trying to make the most out of it each and every game. CCU senior guard Elijah Wilson
There was no feeling out period between the teams Monday night.
Loyola (16-17) saw to it.
“Our guys competed and came out ready to play, but coach [Cliff] Ellis has some tough kids and they kept playing,” Loyola coach G.G. Smith said. “We were playing so well early, I was like, ‘I don’t know if we can play any better than this,’ and I didn’t think they were going to play any worse, so we were going to somehow meet in the middle.”
With Memphis University coach Tubby Smith watching his son’s team behind the Loyola bench, Loyola hit four of its first five shots while racing out to the 16-point lead.
Freshman guard Chuck Champion of Philadelphia scored eight of Loyola’s opening 18 point with a pair of 3-pointers, and James Fives and Andre Walker also hit early treys.
It took the Chanticleers 4:20 to score on a short jumper by Shaw, and they remained on 2 points until Wilson worked for a layup and three-point play 9:15 into the game.
Wilson would score seven straight CCU points to help start the comeback, and finished with 16.
“I didn’t want to go out like that, especially getting blown out,” Wilson said. “When we were getting down as much as we did I tried to do everything I could to help us get back in the game. Luckily I had some openings I was able to finish and some loose balls I was able to scoop up and put in and help start a run for us and get back in the game.”
Through the first 10 minutes, the Chants were 3 of 16 from the field, including 0-for-4 from 3-point range, and committed eight turnovers with just one assist.
CCU pulled within seven points with a 9-2 run that included a lay-in on a break and 3-pointer by Shaw.
Coastal completed its comeback from the early deficit by scoring the first seven points of the second half on a pair of baskets by Shaw and 3-pointer by Artur Labinowicz.
From that point on the teams battled for command, combining for six lead changes and four ties before the Chants wrestled control of the game from the Greyhounds with seven straight points to take a 64-59 lead with 3 minutes remaining.
Shaw gave the Chants the lead with a tough three-point play and added another tough basket in the lane before Demario Beck converted an open-court steal into a dunk.
The Chants were able to salt away the game at the free throw line despite going missing three of nine over the final 1:30 because of Loyola’s inability to hit shots.
Following a three-point play by senior Jarred Jones that gave the Greyhounds a 57-52 lead, they went more than seven minutes without a field goal before an Andrew Kostecka put-back with less than a minute remaining and the Greyhounds trailing by seven.
The Chants ended the game on runs of 20-6 and 15-4.
The Chants had four scorers in double figures, as Beck contributed 15 points, eight rebounds, four blocks and two steals, and freshman guard Artur Labinowicz scored 12.
It was Shaw, however, who provided many of CCU’s key plays throughout the game. His 22 points came on 10 of 19 shooting and he added seven rebounds, three assists, three steals and six turnovers in a game-high 37 minutes.
The junior from Hartsville is being relied upon to largely run the point in the absence of starting senior point guard Shivaughn Wiggins, who is unlikely to play for the rest of the season.
“It’s a long season, but we can’t let that get to us,” Shaw said. “We have to get the game plan together and just put it together and be ready to play. We can’t come out short-stepping. We have to be ready, take it personal and get out there and play.”