Coastal Carolina took the court Thursday night at Presbyterian knowing that it needed a win and then some help elsewhere around the Big South to remain in contention for the regular-season championship.
Well, the Chanticleers got a considerable amount of help with conference co-leader Charleston Southern and fellow contenders Winthrop and Radford all losing.
But it would end up not mattering for the Chants as they couldn’t take care of their own business.
Presbyterian, which had lost the previous 11 meetings in the series, scored its biggest win of the year by upsetting Coastal Carolina, 80-69, inside the Templeton Center to dash the Chants’ hopes for a regular-season title.
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Coastal Carolina finishes the regular season 21-9 overall and 12-6 in the Big South, falling 1.5 games behind remaining league leader High Point, and will now turn its attention to the conference tournament, which it hosts next week at The HTC Center.
“They came out and they kicked our butts from the beginning of the game, every facet – shooting, rebounding, hustling,” senior guard Warren Gillis said. “They kicked us in everything. They deserved to win the game.”
Gillis had a team-high 18 points, senior guard Josh Cameron added 16 and sophomore forward Badou Diagne scored 10 as the Chants shot just 38.8 percent from the field and got outrebounded 39-37.
The Blue Hose (10-20, 6-12) shot 53.1 percent with four players scoring in double figures, led by 19 points from Markus Terry, 18 points and 10 rebounds from Jordan Downing and 16 points and nine boards from DeSean Murray.
“It’s obvious. First of all, they were keyed up in this game themselves and ... we didn’t make shots,” Chants coach Cliff Ellis said. “We didn’t make shots, they did and they outrebounded us. That’s the disappointing thing for me. ... You have to give them a lot of credit. They certainly came in here and deserved to win. If they play like that, they’ll win some games next week.”
The Chants did cut an 18-point deficit to five points a couple times in the final minutes, but they just never could reclaim control of the game after a dreadful first half.
Coastal Carolina hit just 2 of its final 15 shots heading into halftime and made only one field goal over the final 9 and a half minutes of the first half.
That opened the door for a 13-0 Presbyterian run as the Blue Hose took full advantage of the Chants’ woes and full control of the game, going up 27-18 with 4:31 left in the half.
It actually got worse from there, too.
After junior forward Marcus Freeman scored on a layup for that lone field goal in the final 9:30-plus of the opening half, Presbyterian got two free throws from Will Adams and a Murray layup to push their lead at 34-22.
Cameron later tacked on a free throw, but he was then blocked at the buzzer in a fittingly frustrating end to the first half for Coastal Carolina.
The Chants finished the half shooting just 29.2 percent (7-of-24) and matched their season low with 23 points heading into halftime.
And the second half brought its own frustrations.
The Chants managed to score quickly on back-to-back possessions, but Presbyterian countered with a 3 by Adams to start a 12-3 run.
Downing, one of the underrated talents in the Big South, drilled a long turnaround jumper and a few possessions later drained a 3. Murray then caught an airball and tossed in a layup to peak the Blue Hose lead at 48-30.
The Chants finally answered, launching a 10-0 run spurred by five points from Cameron and a big 3 from sophomore point guard Shivaughn Wiggins to make it 48-40 with 11:51 remaining.
Coastal Carolina trimmed its deficit back to 8 points again later in the half, but Terry, who came in averaging just 7.4 points per game, scored on three straight possessions for Presbyterian with a short baseline jumper and back-to-back 3s to make it 62-46 with a little more than six minutes left to play.
The Chants made one last push, twice cutting their deficit to five points in the final three-plus minutes on baskets by Gillis, the latter making it 70-65.
The comeback looked to be gaining momentum as Murray then missed two free throws for Presbyterian, but Downing grabbed the offensive rebound for the Blue Hose and Davon Bell would go to the line and make his two foul shots.
Gillis was whistled for an offensive foul at the other end, fouled out on the defensive end a few moments later and that was about it for the rally ... and those regular-season championship hopes.
“It’s over now for us so we’ve got to move on to the tournament,” Gillis said. “There’s nothing we can do about it. We’ve got a new season coming up next week, and that’s all we can think about.”
The Chants, who won the Big South tournament last year, can still claim the No. 2 seed on the bracket depending on what happens Saturday and how the tiebreakers shake out as the rest of the upper half of the league has one game remaining.
Ellis admitted, though, that knowing those other dominoes around the league had fallen into place for his team Thursday night made this loss even tougher.
“I’m very disappointed that we didn’t get the win, but we’ve got to put this behind us because the chase for this championship is over,” Ellis said. “It came down for us to the last day. We didn’t get it done, and next week we’ve got three big games and we’ve got to focus on what we’ve got to do. The whole body of work overall for this season has been very good, but we’re disappointed we didn’t get this tonight.”