Despite 27 points from senior guard Jaylen Shaw in what was likely his final college game, the Coastal Carolina men’s basketball team’s season came to an end Wednesday afternoon in the opening game of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament at Lakefront Arena in New Orleans.
The Chants (14-18), seeded eighth in the tournament after going 8-10 in Sun Belt play in the regular season, fell 73-66 to ninth-seeded Texas State (15-17), which ended a nine-game losing dating back to Jan. 25.
The CCU women’s team is still alive, however, having won seven of its last eight games including an opening-round Sun Belt Tournament win Tuesday, 74-55 over Georgia State. The seventh-seeded Chanticleers (17-13) will No. 2 Texas State (21-8) at 6 p.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals.
Shaw, a Hartsville native who transferred to Coastal following a season at South Carolina, scored 27 points on 11-of-17 shooting with six rebounds and three assists. He closed out his career with the 11th-most points in Coastal Carolina history with 1,400 and the fourth-most assists with 449.
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Junior forward Zac Cuthbertson scored 19 points on 6-or-10 shooting and was the only other Chant with more than six points.
The Chants shot 40.7 percent for the game and 31 percent behind the three-point line, and were just 2 of 10 from behind the arc in the second half.
Texas State shot just 38 percent from the field and 25 percent from three-point range, but the Bobcats had 15 offensive rebounds leading to 15 second-chance points.
“We only had 10 turnovers, but [rebounding] was a priority coming into this game,” Coastal Carolina seven-year assistant Benny Moss said on CCU’s radio broadcast following the game. “Texas State plays a possession-type game. They dig in, they defend. It’s one possession at a time so you have to try to win the possessions game, you have to have more possessions than they do, and their 15 offensive rebounds gave them the possessions they needed to put the game away.”
The Chants trailed by four at halftime but fell behind by 16 following a 16-4 Bobcats run to start the second half. “That little flurry to start the second half got them that the separation they needed.”
The Chants cut the deficit to four points with three minutes left but couldn’t complete the comeback. Texas State helped ice the win at the free throw line by hitting 18 of 21 from the line in the second half and scoring a total of 22 points from the line.
Coastal began the season 5-2 and suffered close losses to South Carolina, Wake Forest and NCAA Tournament-bound College of Charleston by a combined eight points just before conference play started in late December.
“The one thing we knew with this group was the margin for error was really slim. We didn’t quite have the depth that we wanted,” Moss said. “But coming out of those [late non-conference] games . . . you had reason to feel confident, and this team kept fighting. We just went through a little stretch where offensively we didn’t flow quite as well, we had some ups and downs, and we were sporadic shooting the basketball.”
The Chants were streaky this season, losing six consecutive games early in the conference schedule, followed by four wins, four losses and another three wins late in the season.
“I think this team allowed some of that inability to make shots offensively early in the conference season when we lost those six games in a row, we let it carry over into our defense and you can’t allow that to happen,” Moss said. “If you’re missing shots, you need to dig in and be even better defensively.”
The Chants lose only two seniors in Shaw and forward Demario Beck. Reserve guard Christian Adams is also leaving the program after graduating in three years.
The Chants return junior forward Zac Cuthbertson for his final year of eligibility after the 6-7 forward nearly matched Shaw’s team lead in points with 14.7 points per game. “A good offseason for him and he could be one of the better players in this league,” Moss said.
The Chants other expected returnees next year include guards Artur Labinowicz, Ajay Sanders, Tre Brown and Tyrell Gumbs-Frater, center Josh Coleman and forward Amidou Bamba.
“I think we’ve got some good young players that got some good minutes and good reps as the season progressed,” Moss said. “. . . We’ve got a couple good players we’ve signed, and we have to hit the recruiting trail to get some more to go with them to get our depth where it needs to be.”
Texas State advances to the quarterfinal round to play Sun Belt regular season champion Louisiana-Lafayette (25-6, 14-2) on Friday.
The women’s quarterfinals come first, though, and CCU will have an opportunity to knock off one of the tournament favorites after its 19-point win Tuesday.
Five Chants scored in double figures led by Jas Adams’ 16 points. She leads the Sun Belt in scoring with 18.7 points per game and moved into 11th place among Coastal’s all-time leading scorers with 1,184 points.
Kaylin West scored 15 points, Breelyn Blanding had 13, Janae Camp had a career-high 11 points and Naheria Hamilton collected her ninth double-double of the season with 10 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.
“I thought their focus was awesome. I thought their energy coming into the game and intention to follow the game plan was the best I’ve seen all year,” CCU coach Jaida Williams said.
The Chants trailed by a point following the first quarter but took command over the 10th-seeded Panthers (8-22) by outscoring them 22-6 in the second quarter.
“There were a bit of nerves coming into this game, especially when you hold the higher seed and there’s an expectation there,” Williams said. “But I felt like the second quarter the nerves settled in and our team was able to get into a flow.”