Another quality opponent, another close loss for Coastal Carolina.
The Chanticleers fell 67-65 to College of Charleston on Friday night at the HTC Center, and have now lost games to South Carolina, Wake Forest and the Cougars by a combined eight points over their past four contests.
Poor outside shooting doomed the Chants, who fell to 6-7 in their final non-conference game of the regular season. After hitting 10 of 20 three-point attempts in their last outing against Wake Forest – an 84-80 loss – CCU hit just one of 16 attempts from beyond the arc Friday.
“You can look at a lot of things, but the difference in the night was the three-ball,” Coastal head coach Cliff Ellis said. “We were one for 16 and we’ve been knocking those shots down. . . . Those two or three threes they made [early in the second half] and we couldn’t get one to fall, that’s the difference in the game.”
The Chants entered Friday’s game third in the Sun Belt Conference in three-point field goal percentage at 36.6 percent.
“Today was a very bad shooting night from all of us,” said CCU sophomore guard Artur Labinowicz, who scored 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting. “We always work on our threes and whatnot, I guess it just wasn’t our night tonight, but we still managed to fight and keep it a game and keep it close, we just came up short.”
Charleston (9-3), an NIT team last season and the preseason pick to win the Colonial Athletic Association, has won seven of its past eight games with its only loss in that stretch at Rhode Island.
“We’ve played some really good teams – against South Carolina we were close, Wake Forest we were close, and tonight against Charleston, a really good team, we were really close,” Labinowicz said. “I wouldn’t say it’s wearing on us, but it’s building up our character, it’s getting us ready for the conference.”
Charleston entered the game 21st in the country in scoring defense, allowing 62.8 points per game, and 41st in the nation in field goal percentage defense, holding opponents to 39.4 percent shooting. The Chants shot 44.7 percent including their struggles from long range. Charleston shot 44 percent from the field and hit 6 of 19 three-point shots.
The game featured 17 lead changes and 10 ties, but all of those were in the first 27 minutes.
College of Charleston opened up a five-point lead with 13 minutes remaining on back-to-back 3-pointers by Cameron Johnson and Joe Chealey and never relinquished the lead.
The lead was six points with 3 minutes remaining before the Chants got a free throw by Zac Cuthbertson, long jumper by Ajay Sanders – his first points of the game – and dunk by Demario Beck to pull within a point with 1:10 to play.
A tough running jumper by Grant Riller and free throw by Johnson pushed the Charleston advantage to four points before a Cuthbertson layin pulled CCU with two points with 26 seconds to play.
Charleston’s Jarrell Brantley and CCU’s Jaylen Shaw traded a pair of free throws with 14 and 9 seconds remaining, respectively, and another pair of free throws by Brantley with 7 seconds to play made Beck’s put-back with less than a second remaining inconsequential.
“We just need that extra play, and somewhere down the line it’s got to turn around. Somewhere it does,” Ellis said. “But it’s not going to get any easier.”
Chealey, Charleston’s leading scorer and the Colonial Athletic Association Preseason Player of the Year, was held to four points in the first half but scored 10 in the opening 7 minutes of the second half to help the Cougars open up a six-point lead.
His backcourt mate, Riller, scored a game-high 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting. Cuthbertson scored a team-high 19 points, Shaw had 12 and Beck had 10 points and a team-high eight rebounds.
The Chants started the game sluggish, going 1 for 9 from the field in the game’s first 6:50 with three turnovers and each starter missing at least one shot.
The Chants struggled to get off quality shots during their early struggles, twice being forced to take low-percentage 3-pointers as the 30-second shot clock was expiring.
The Chants had just six points through 8:30 and trailed 14-6.
College of Charleston, meanwhile, hit six of its first nine shots led by Riller, a sophomore who hit four of his first five shots to score nine of the Cougars’ first 14 points.
The roles were reversed over the next eight minutes, however, as Coastal hit six of its next nine shots and Charleston missed nine of its next 12 and turned the ball over six times. The Cougars finished the first half hitting just four of its final 16 shots.
After falling behind early, the Chants went on a 12-0 run to take a 16-14 lead, as Shaw contributed four points and Beck had a dunk in the run. Coastal held a 27-26 lead after a first half that featured seven ties and eight lead changes.
Both teams were in the bonus for the game’s final 10 minutes and were efficient from the free throw line. College of Charleston hit 17 of 20 free throws (85 percent), including five of six in the final minute, and the Chants hit 22 of 27 (81.5 percent) after making just 12 of 19 against Wake Forest (63.2 percent).
Charleston has now won five of the past six meetings in the series dating back to 2010 and leads the longtime series overall 38-11.
The Chants finish the season with 18 consecutive Sun Belt Conference games beginning Friday with reigning regular season conference champion and 2017-18 conference favorite Texas-Arlington coming to the HTC Center for a game that will be televised to a national audience on ESPN2.
The Chants conclude a five-game homestand with a 3:30 p.m. game against Texas State on New Year’s Eve before hitting the road for a pair of games in Louisiana.
“This is probably the toughest non-conference schedule that we’ve taken on here,” Ellis said. “The people we’ve played, you have to be at your best. We were at our best against South Carolina and Wake Forest, and they just wouldn’t go. We were not at our best tonight, but at the same time you have to give College of Charleston credit. They’re good. They’re picked to win their league and they’re a tough ballclub.”