After building momentum and excitement with three straight wins to open the postseason, this wasn’t the ending the Coastal Carolina men’s basketball team had in mind Sunday night.
The Chanticleers were without their starting point guard after junior Shivaughn Wiggins was arrested and subsequently suspended indefinitely a day earlier. They struggled to overcome not only that loss, but also a significant height disadvantage against a UC Irvine team with four players 6-foot-10 or taller.
And after advancing through the 26-team CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament field with a string of strong second-half performances, the Chants wouldn’t even have the chance for any late-game dramatics in the semifinals as the Anteaters built an eight-point halftime lead and remained in control the rest of the way to send Coastal Carolina to a 66-47 loss before a crowd of 1,204 inside The HTC Center.
“It’s very tough. Every time you end the season, whether you’re a senior or a junior, it’s always tough,” senior forward Badou Diagne said. “But we fought, we gave everything we had. We didn’t play our best game, but it happens. But we really played our heart out.”
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UC Irvine (28-9) got 15 points from guard Luke Nelson, 11 points and eight rebounds from guard Alex Young, nine points and nine rebounds from 7-foot-6 center Mamadou Ndiaye and eight points and seven boards from 6-foot-10 forward Mike Best while the visitors earned a 47-36 rebounding advantage overall.
Meanwhile, their height – which also includes 7-foot-2 center Ioannis Dimakopoulos and 6-foot-10 forward Jonathan Galloway – had a pronounced impact defensively as the Chants (21-12) shot just 27.4 percent from the field.
“You’ve got to give a lot of credit to UC Irvine. Without question the best team that we’ve played, and it’s so tough to simulate them in a practice setting,” Coastal Carolina coach Cliff Ellis said. “Their size just absolutely, I think, bothered us in many aspects. First of all, I think their rebounding over us was a big key in this game, and we didn’t make shots. When we took it in there there were a lot of shots that were getting changed and altered, and you have to hit the 3-point shots and the elbow shots against a team like this. And we weren’t able to do it. We simply did not make the shots and we didn’t rebound, and that’s pretty much it.”
Junior guard Colton Ray-St Cyr led the Chants with 16 points and Diagne finished with 11 points and five rebounds while no other Coastal Carolina player managed more than five points.
This is a team that has it all. They’ve got the size, they’ve got the shooting – they’ve got it all. Without question, this team and Hawaii are the best teams that we played.
CCU basketball coach Cliff Ellis
Junior guard Elijah Wilson – the star of the team’s CIT quarterfinals win – and sophomore guard Jaylen Shaw were a combined 3-for-15 from the field and 0-for-7 from 3-point range.
That magnified the loss of Wiggins, who had become the team’s on-court leader this season and a player who could take control on the offensive end when his teammates were struggling. He was arrested and charged with third-degree assault and battery on Saturday morning for an incident regarding an ex-girlfriend and was suspended indefinitely from the program.
Ellis said he could not yet answer whether Wiggins would return to the team next season, but he downplayed the significance the matter had on the Chants on Sunday night.
“I don’t think it had an effect on the guys and whether they made the shot or not. We were in the game,” Ellis said. “I think his defense would have been a factor, but you’ve still got to knock down the 3-point shot and that’s not what we look for him to do. And you’ve got to rebound, and that’s not what we look for him to do. If we make 3-point shots and we rebound, then we’re right there. We were there for a while.”
The players said much of the same.
“We’ve been going through adversity and losing players all year. I think the next guy stepped up and we just keep going, keep playing,” Diagne said.
Added Ray-St Cyr: “Yeah, we’ve dealt with adversity all season so by this time we are kind of used to it, so we adjusted and the next man stepped up. ... It probably hurt, him not being there, but the next man stepped up.”
It was a tight game for most of the first half with five lead changes before halftime. The Chants were leading 23-21 after Ray-St Cyr drained a 3-pointer, but UC Irvine followed with a 12-2 run to close the half with a 33-25 lead.
And then the Anteaters scored the first five points of the second half to push that lead to double-figures for the first time.
Coastal Carolina tried to answer, but the visitors caught fire from the perimeter to push the gap even wider while answering three straight Chants’ baskets with three straight 3s (two from Young and one from Nelson) to make it a 47-32 game.
The Chants never got it closer than 11 points the rest of the way while the Anteaters peaked their lead at 21 points in the final minutes.
“This is a team that has it all. They’ve got the size, they’ve got the shooting – they’ve got it all,” Ellis said. “Without question, this team and Hawaii are the best teams that we played. I know they’ve got to travel tomorrow, but I know Columbia’s got their hands full. Very good basketball team.”
UC Irvine advances to play in the CIT championship game at Columbia in New York City on Tuesday night while the Chants close their season after earning the first three official postseason victories in program history.
“Anytime you can play postseason it gives you the opportunity to be together. We spent the entire month of March together now,” Ellis said. “We’ve actually spent the last nine months together. It’s been a long season because it started before [the team’s exhibition trip to] Cuba with 10 practices and then we had some July period to work our team out, but it’s been a tremendous run from Cuba to now. And this postseason run has been valuable with regards to the experience.”
It was the final game for Coastal Carolina’s four outgoing seniors in Diagne, forward Tristian Curtis, forward Marcus Freeman and guard Aaron Law.
Diagne delivered one more play to his highlight reel with a crowd-pleasing reverse alley-oop dunk in the first half on a pass from Shaw.
Asked where that one ranks among his most memorable plays in his four seasons with the program, Ray-St Cyr interjected that it was definitely top-three for Diagne.
“I even forgot about that dunk. Yeah, I think it’s one of the top-three,” Diagne said.
As for the seniors, Ellis made a point to remark on their contributions to what has been the best three-year stretch in program history with two NCAA tournament appearances and now run to the CIT semifinals.
“As far as the season, I’m just very proud of our team because from day one we fought injuries, we never had our full team together and yet this team found a way to win 21 games,” he said. “And I want to say this, our senior class, they have been magnificent with regards to everything they have done. Tristian Curtis, Badou Diagne, Marcus Freeman, Aaron Law, those four guys gave us everything that they had. And their run over the last four years has been a great one. It’s been a great, great run.”
UC IRVINE (28-9): Young 4-9 0-2 11, Nelson 6-14 0-0 15, Dunning 1-3 2-2 4, Best 4-6 0-0 8, Ndiaye 3-5 3-4 9, Martin 3-7 0-0 8, Galloway 0-1 0-0 0, Saprykinas 0-1 0-0 0, Dimakopoulos 2-7 0-0 4, Smith 0-0 2-3 2, Ray 0-0 0-0 0, Rivers 0-1 0-0 0, Wright 1-3 2-2 5. Totals 24-57 9-13 66.
COASTAL CAROLINA (21-12): Shaw 2-8 0-0 4, Curtis 2-4 0-0 4, Wilson 1-7 3-4 5, Diagne 4-10 2-3 11, Ray-St Cyr 5-14 2-2 16, Holmes Jr. 0-5 0-0 0, Law 0-0 0-0 0, Adams 0-1 0-0 0, Coleman 1-3 0-0 2, Trapps 1-4 0-0 3, Freeman 1-6 0-0 2. Totals 17-62 7-9 47.
Halftime—UC Irvine 33-25. 3-Point Goals—UC Irvine 9-23 (Young 3-5, Nelson 3-8, Martin 2-6, Wright 1-1, Dunning 0-1, Dimakopoulos 0-2), Coastal Carolina 6-26 (Ray-St Cyr 4-7, Trapps 1-4, Diagne 1-4, Wilson 0-3, Holmes Jr. 0-4, Shaw 0-4). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—UC Irvine 47 (Ndiaye 9), Coastal Carolina 36 (Curtis, Diagne 5). Assists—UC Irvine 11 (Nelson 5), Coastal Carolina 9 (Ray-St Cyr, Shaw 3). Total Fouls—UC Irvine 15, Coastal Carolina 14. A—1,204.