The Coastal Carolina men’s basketball team’s senior class has earned an opportunity to enhance its mark on the program with its third tournament championship.
Coastal reached the best-of-three championship series of the College Basketball Invitational with an 89-78 win Wednesday over the University of Illinois-Chicago at the HTC Center.
The Chanticleers (19-17) will face Wyoming (21-14) of the Mountain West Conference in the finals, and will host the opening game at 7:30 p.m. Monday. Wyoming, which defeated Utah Valley 74-68 Wednesday on its home court, will host the final game or two. Each game will be broadcast live on the ESPNU cable network.
“What I like about it for our program is the exposure. It’s there,” CCU coach Cliff Ellis said. “There’s not going to be 64 teams playing in this tournament or that tournament. It’s down to the championships and national television is going to be there. It’s a week of basketball and we get to share that stage. I think that’s huge.”
As a member of the Big South Conference through last season, CCU won Big South tournament titles in 2014 and ’15 to reach the NCAA Tournament.
“We couldn’t get [a title] in the regular season, and I came in getting one, and I would like to leave with one too,” said CCU senior guard Colton Ray-St. Cyr. “It means a lot to me.”
In its first season in the Sun Belt Conference, Coastal went 10-8 in league play before losing in the second round of the conference tournament, and has defeated Hampton, Loyola (Md.) and UIC to reach the CBI finals.
“I think it shows our resiliency,” Ray St.-Cyr said. “We were upset we didn’t get to the NCAA Tournament. But we also know we were fortunate enough to actually get in a tournament. For us to get over the fact we didn’t reach as high as we wanted to go, but to still have a chance to win a championship it shows we’re a pretty resilient group.”
We were upset we didn’t get to the NCAA Tournament. But we also know we were fortunate enough to actually get in a tournament. For us to be able to still get to the championship and get over the fact we didn’t reach as high as we wanted to go, but to still have a chance to win a championship it shows we’re a pretty resilient group.
CCU senior guard Colton Ray-St. Cyr
All five CCU starters scored in double figures for the second time in three games, and just the second time this season. For the third consecutive game, junior guard Jaylen Shaw led CCU with exactly 22 points.
Junior forward Demario Beck added 18 points and 10 rebounds for his ninth double-double of the season, and senior guard Elijah Wilson scored 16 points and had a team-high six of CCU’s 16 assists.
Coastal set season highs with 16 steals and 26 made free throws on 31 attempts, outrebounded UIC 41-29 and forced 23 turnovers while committing 14.
“There’s no doubt we moved the ball better and because of that we shot it better,” Ellis said. “We did a lot of things better. We played a good game. We made free throws, we shot the three-ball, we outrebounded, we forced more turnovers. It’s just a huge win.”
Coastal trailed just once Wednesday, after Tai Odiase’s basket to open the scoring. Wilson tied the game on a layin, the Chants took a 5-2 lead on a Shaw 3-pointer and never again trailed.
The start was in stark contrast to the Chants’ quarterfinal contest Monday, when they fell behind Loyola (Md.) 18-2 before rallying to win.
“We didn’t want to come out sluggish and get down and waste a lot of energy coming back,” Shaw said. “… We just tried to come out and handle things right away.”
The Chants took a seven-point lead into halftime and opened up a 15-point lead with 11:30 remaining on the strength of a 12-3 run that included four points each by Shaw and Beck.
An 8-0 run that was capped by a fast-break dunk by Artur Labinowicz gave the Chants a 21-point lead with 7 minutes remaining.
The Flames cut the lead to 10 points following a Marcus Ottey steal and free throw with 2 minutes left, but CCU held them off, largely with success at the free throw line.
It shows the program is growing. We’re in a better league. It’s a better postseason tournament. It shows how we’re growing as a team and as a program altogether.
CCU junior guard Jaylen Shaw
CCU has been getting some late-season contributions from unexpected sources.
Sophomore guard Christian Adams of Winston-Salem, N.C., didn’t play in the Chants’ first two CBI games but played 17 minutes Wednesday and contributed four points, four rebounds, two steals and an assist without a turnover. The Chants are short a guard without injured senior Shivaughn Wiggins, and after Shaw picked up two early fouls Adams got minutes Jaylan Robinson has been recently receiving.
“We gave Christian a chance and it’s like next batter up,” Ellis said. “I think you can give a lot of credit to Christian Adams being able to give us some good minutes. I think two things have happened this week: [senior] Michel Enanga and Christian Adams stepping up to the plate when they haven’t been playing much.”
UIC (17-19) improved 12 wins from a five-win season in 2015-16 and was among the youngest teams in the country. On Wednesday, second-year Flames coach Steve McClain started four freshmen and Odiase, a junior.
Coastal has a four-player senior class comprised of Ray-St. Cyr, Enanga, Wiggins and Wilson, the program’s third-leading all-time scorer.
CCU faced Virginia and Wisconsin in the 2014 and ’15 NCAA Tournaments, won three postseason games last year to reach the semifinals of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament before losing to California-Irvine, and has won three games in the CBI to reach the championship series.
“For our seniors, what a way to go out, to be in a championship, to be on a national stage,” Ellis said. “I’m really proud of our seniors. This was a payoff game. … Monday, Wednesday, Friday we’re on ESPN. You can not put a face value for what this win is worth for Coastal Carolina. You can’t buy what is fixin’ to happen next week.
“I’m just tickled to death. I hope our people appreciate what this senior class has done.”