Three days after losing to UNC Asheville by 34 points at home, the Coastal Carolina women’s basketball team had to return to the same court and face the Bulldogs again in the first round of the Big South tournament Tuesday night while hoping for a different fate.
And it was indeed a much more competitive game this time with the Chanticleers cutting their deficit to five points in the final minutes, but that didn’t make the final result any more satisfying for the hosts.
No. 8-seeded UNC Asheville thwarted any thoughts of a comeback by dominating the game over the final minutes to finish off a 68-54 win over the No. 9 Chants inside The HTC Center and advance to a quarterfinals matchup with top-seeded Liberty on Thursday.
Coastal Carolina, meanwhile, finishes its season with a 12-18 record.
“We made a lot of adjustments coming into it, some different looks on defense, some different things on offense. We just didn’t get it done,” senior guard AJ Jordan said.
Junior forward Anna Vogt had a big game for the Chants with 25 points on 10-of-13 shooting and Jordan added 14 points and nine rebounds in her final collegiate game, but it wasn’t enough.
UNC Asheville (9-21) got 16 points off the bench from guard Khaila Webb and 14 points from guard Tianna Knuckles to win for the third time this season against Coastal Carolina.
Bulldogs coach Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick said she knew this one wouldn’t come as easily as the last one, though, and that her players weren’t making any assumptions.
“That was pretty much an anomaly what happened last Saturday, and it didn’t happen tonight,” she said. “We knew that. We knew that was just a rare occasion in basketball. It was a perfect storm and we’ve had that happen to us, when all the things are going right for our opponent and nothing’s going right for us. And that was kind of Coastal on Saturday. ... Look at our record, we’re not some powerhouse. We’re just a gritty team. We’re capable, but our kids have a pretty good understanding of who we are.”
And a pretty good understanding of how to beat Coastal Carolina, having now secured one third of their wins this season against the Chants.
On Tuesday night, the Chants led 27-24 with a little less than five minutes left in the first half before UNC Asheville scored the next 12 points to head into halftime up 36-27.
Coastal Carolina never got closer than four points the rest of the way, though the hosts kept the game competitive for most of the second half.
After Shonese Jones made a layup to push the Bulldogs’ lead to 57-48, the Chants got a layup and then two free throws from Vogt on consecutive possessions to draw it to 57-52 with 2:39 remaining.
The Chants then got the ball back on a turnover, but junior guard Stephanie Isaacs lost her dribble out of bounds at the other end and the Bulldogs started to pull away.
Brittany Gwyn made the first of two free throws and KJ Weaver grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on a layup on a pivotal possession. After Jordan sank a short jumper for the Chants to make it a six-point game, Nuckles delivered the dagger with a 3-pointer at the other end to make it 63-54 with 1:15 to play.
“I think we had a lot of breakdowns defensively,” Vogt said. “I think offensively we were doing all right and we were getting the ball in the basket. We just needed to get stops, and it seemed like every time we started to catch up we’d give up an offensive rebound and they’d get a second-chance shot or we would just leave someone open.”
Jordan finishes her career as the program’s sixth-leading scorer all-time with 1,441 points and Vogt and Williams both made a point to recognize her in their postgame comments.
“I enjoyed playing here. I had the best coaching staff I ever played for by far. I’m happy that I had the teammates that I had,” Jordan said. “I learned a lot, grew a lot and I’m grateful for everything that this program has done for me.”
Said Williams: “I’m so grateful to have coached AJ, and I can’t say that enough.”
And that leaves the question of where do the Chants go from here, having to replace their go-to player after a disappointing season. The program had gone 15-16 overall and 10-10 in the league in Williams’ first season before regressing in the standings (6-14 in the Big South this season) and slumping to the finish with losses in 10 of their final 12 games.
“Never give up, never get satisfied, never settle,” Vogt said of what she’ll take away from the season. “I think we settled too much this year. We got comfortable. You can never be comfortable.”
Williams, meanwhile, tried to keep things in perspective.
“I think every coach goes into every place and believes that you can take it right to the top, but wisdom has taught me – watching Dawn Staley, watching Coach K – that any great program takes time to build,” she said. “So we’re going to continue to work tirelessly as we have done for the last two seasons. I think that our senior leadership has done a great job laying a foundation and we’re going to continue to build off of that.
“Our student-athletes have done some great things. I don’t want to act like we’ve done nothing great. They’ve done some really great things this year, and we’re going to build on those positives. But we’re also going to make sure that we kind of clean up those negatives and continue to recruit [impact] players to the program.”