While the rest of the Big South schedule was playing out with great drama Saturday, the Coastal Carolina men’s basketball team was off for the weekend resting.
The Chanticleers had wrapped up play on Thursday and saw their hopes for the conference’s regular-season title taken away with a loss at Presbyterian, so while Charleston Southern was busy outlasting High Point in three overtimes to claim the championship, the Chants were already focused on the next stage.
As it shook out Saturday night, Coastal Carolina learned it would get the third seed in the Big South tournament and a quarterfinals matchup Friday night against the first-round winner between Liberty and UNC Asheville, with all games being played here at The HTC Center.
And for the first time since that deflating loss to Presbyterian, the Chants (21-9, 12-6 Big South) returned to practice Sunday with renewed optimism toward their ultimate goal.
“It’s going to be tough for everybody. This is going to be one tournament that’s going to be a fan’s delight,” Chants coach Cliff Ellis said. “As we’ve seen through the process of this whole thing, there’s not a team that can’t win a game. I mean, you look at the upsets this past week of who beat who and what, it just shows that anybody can win. Regardless of who we play, we know it’s going to be a tough matchup … but there’s not a team that we face that we don’t have the utmost respect for. It’s going to be a tremendous tournament.”
The anybody-can-beat-anybody notion is especially pertinent for the Chants after losing 80-69 to a Presbyterian team they had beaten the previous 11 meetings. That loss became more significant when Charleston Southern prevailed in that de facto championship game with High Point on Saturday because had Coastal Carolina not lost Thursday those three teams would have ended up tied in the standings – and the Chants would have claimed the tiebreaker with a 2-0 record against the Panthers and a 1-1 mark against the Buccaneers.
But what’s done is done and senior guard Josh Cameron said before practice Sunday that all the focus is toward the upcoming week.
“Honestly, the next day I woke up I wasn’t even thinking about it anymore. In this game, you’ve got to have a short memory and sometimes games happen like that where teams are hot, we’re missing shots, they’re making shots, they had home court, it was senior night,” Cameron said. “So we’ve just got to put that loss behind us. This is what we really want. We didn’t want to go to the NIT. We want to go to the NCAA tournament.”
Charleston Southern clinched at least a spot in the National Invitation Tournament by claiming the regular-season championship, but the ultimate prize is indeed still up for grabs as the winner of the Big South tournament will move on to the NCAA tournament.
Last year it was the Chants cutting down the nets in their home arena and getting ready for the program’s first NCAA tournament berth in 21 years.
Now they’ll try to do it again, needing three more wins to reach the Big Dance.
The top five seeds all get first-round byes, so the Chants won’t know who they open with until No. 11-seed Liberty (8-23, 2-16) and No. 6 UNC Asheville (14-15, 10-8) play at 6 Wednesday night.
Coastal Carolina swept the Flames in the regular season, including a 96-56 victory at home on Feb. 14, while splitting with the Bulldogs with the home team winning each time by double-digit points.
“Honestly I didn’t care what team we play. At this point, it’s just we’ve got to come out here, we’ve got a home court advantage and we just have to come here and play hard,” Cameron said. “I’m not even thinking about what team we have to play, what matchups are favorable because anybody can beat anybody in tournament time. We’ve just got to be focused and come out ready to play. We won it last year so everybody’s going to be gunning for us. We’ve just got to be ready.”
The winner of Coastal Carolina’s quarterfinals game will then face either No. 2 High Point, No. 7 Gardner-Webb or No. 10 Campbell.
Ellis echoed Cameron’s sentiments, though, saying preparations won’t be geared so much to possible opponents but rather on refining what the Chants do best.
“I think you have to go with what you’ve done throughout the year and focus on getting what you do to be the best that you can and then bring it,” he said. “When you win, there’s no time to physically prepare for the next opponent. You just have to take what you do and go at that opponent and they’re going to bring what they do. That’s the beauty of tournament basketball.”
Ellis said he did not watch Charleston Southern’s 97-93 triple-overtime win over High Point on Saturday, but Cameron did.
He commented that senior guard Saah Nimley, who poured in 38 points for the Buccaneers, likely clinched Big South Player of the Year honors with that performance and said he wouldn’t mind a rematch with the Bucs if both teams make it to the finals this week.
“In the championship game, I want it to be us and Charleston Southern,” Cameron said. “… That would be an exciting game.”