A handful of NBA scouts were in attendance at the HTC Center on Friday night, presumably to get a look at Texas-Arlington 6-9 senior forward Kevin Hervey, who is a projected NBA draft pick.
What they saw, as well as a national audience on ESPN2, was a dismantling of UTA by Coastal Carolina and a dismal performance by Hervey.
After suffering a trio of close losses to good competition over its final four non-conference games, Coastal found a remedy to the disappointing nail-biters.
The Chanticleers (7-7) never let it get close against the class of the Sun Belt Conference.
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Coastal took an 11-point lead into halftime, expanded the lead to 27 points in the final three minutes and defeated reigning Sun Belt regular-season champion and 2017-18 conference favorite UT-Arlington 90-65 in its conference opener.
“The preconference schedule was tough. We learned a lot playing good teams and we put it together tonight and finished the game,” said senior guard Jaylen Shaw of Hartsville, who scored a game-high 26 points, which matched his collegiate career high. “We always thought we were capable. We knew if we put it together we could do some things, and tonight it showed.”
Arlington (9-5) was picked to win the league against this season by the conference’s head coaches and Hervey is the reigning conference player of the year. He was held to seven points on 3-of-11 shooting and four rebounds with the scouts watching from the baseline.
“This is a big jump for us,” Shaw said. “We see we can beat one of the better teams. We just have to keep that going and take it through all the games.”
Hervey entered the game leading the Sun Belt and ranking sixth in the NCAA in scoring with 23.6 points per game, and senior point guard Erick Neal was leading the conference and was third in the NCAA with 9.1 assists per game. He was held to seven points and six assists, and the Mavericks shot a dismal 37 percent from the field.
“Holding Neal and Hervey to seven and seven, that’s really the story line to this game,” CCU coach Cliff Ellis said. “We were able to contain those two guys and we knew we had to do that because I think they make their team go.”
In the first half, Hervey was credited with just two points and one rebound, while Neal had two points and two assists and was hampered by foul trouble, picking up his fourth foul with 9:30 to play in the game.
It got away from Arlington, and that’s really unusual but things like that can happen. Without question we had a great overall effort. … I didn’t expect it like this. But you can’t get giddy because in 40 hours we’re coming back and playing and there are 17 more games to play and a lot of good teams, so just kind of dig in and make something happen.
Coastal Carolina coach Cliff Ellis
The Chants pulled away despite putting Arlington in the penalty with 13 minutes remaining. Coastal was whistled for six fouls in the first three minutes of the second half. The Mavericks went 10 of 17 from the line thereafter, but their poor shooting from the field and CCU’s dominance made the free throws a non-factor.
“They definitely whooped our tail tonight,” Arlington coach Scott Cross said. “I feel like they’re going to want to get better and learn from this. There’s a ton of talent on our basketball team, and if we decide we want to take on a tough mentality and let our defense dictate our offense then we can go a long ways. But that’s what we’re going to need to do. Being a soft basketball team isn’t going to get us anywhere.”
A few CCU players had career games Friday. In addition to Shaw matching his career high in points, sophomore forward Amidou Bamba contributed a career-high 14 points off the bench and junior guard Christian Adams scored a career-high 10 points in 14 minutes in his most extensive game action of the season. He had played a total of 27 minutes through the first 13 games. Coastal’s reserves outscored UTA’s bench players 45-13.
“What a great team effort. So many people played a role,” Ellis said. “I thought [Bamba] played extremely well. I liked the way he played tonight. We’ve been wanting that spark from him. He showed it so perhaps it’s coming at the right time.
“Tonight when [Adams] got in he made the most of it. There were a lot of pressing defenses and he’s a ball-handler, and the way they were pressing we wanted some ball-handlers out there so we could get it over [halfcourt], so it worked out.”
Sophomore guard Artur Labinowicz scored 15 points, including the game’s first seven points, and Demario Beck had 13 points and a team-high nine rebounds, as the Chants outrebounded Arlington 41-34.
A flurry of 3-pointers late in the first half gave Coastal a lead it never relinquished.
Coastal hit six of seven shots – all 3-pointers including the final four in succession – to account for an 18-6 run to take a 12-point lead that remained 11 points at halftime. Demario Beck and Ajay Sanders each hit two of the treys and Labinowicz and Shaw connected on one each.
“When you’re shooting the basketball it just makes you look better and we were able to knock the shots down,” Ellis said.
Arlington got no closer than seven points in the second half.
The Mavericks had gone on an 11-2 run that included three consecutive baskets by 7-foot center Johnny Hamilton to tie the score at 22 prior to CCU’s long range bombing spree. Arlington shot just 38 percent, hitting 22 of 58 shots from the field including 5 of 22 from three-point range, while CCU shot 50 percent and was 11 of 26 from behind the arc, including 7 of 12 in the first half.
Shaw was 8 of 12 from the field and 8 of 10 from the free throw line, while Bamba hit six of his seven shots from the field and Beck hit five of six shots. Shaw had scored 24 combined points in the past two games.
“I’m just out there taking my shots,” Shaw said. “I wasn’t really putting it in the hole in the past two games, but the coaches stayed with me and kept giving me that confidence, and tonight I put it in the hole.”
I thought he was well-rounded. He protected the ball, he shot the ball, defensively he was strong and solid. He ran our team. He kept us in position. They were pressing a lot, they were changing defenses and we were able to manage those.
Coastal Carolina coach Cliff Ellis on senior guard Jaylen Shaw
The Chants easily overcame an off night from their top scorer, junior forward Zac Cuthbertson, who missed all seven shot attempts from the field and went scoreless. He was averaging 17.9 points per game.
Coastal had suffered some tough losses against good competition leading up to conference play, falling to South Carolina, Wake Forest and College of Charleston by a combined eight points. Shaw said the losses haven’t discouraged the Chants.
“It’s pretty easy to motivate these guys,” said Shaw, one of just two CCU seniors. “These guys are going to come out here and play hard. Every day we go hard in practice. We’re trying to just keep that focus. We’ve got a lot of young guys, so keeping the focus is the main thing. They’re going to come out and play hard every night, it’s just that focus.”
The CCU women set the stage in the afternoon for the nationally televised men’s game, beating the UT-Arlington women 89-76 at the HTC Center while shooting 54 percent. Guards Jas Adams and Breelyn Blanding scored 22 and 21 pts, respectively, to lead five Chants in double figures.
D.J. Williams and Naheria Hamilton had 17 points and nine rebounds apiece and Williams added nine assists for a near triple-double. Alise Davis scored 10 points.
The men and women are back in action Sunday at the HTC Center against Texas State, with the women playing at 1 p.m. and the men at 3:30 p.m.
“It’s quick preparation, but I’m pretty sure we’ll put it together and we’ll be out here Sunday ready to play,” Shaw said.