Coastal Carolina got its first real test on its home floor Wednesday night and the Chanticleers got a measuring stick through the first month of their season with an 87-81 loss to Wofford at the HTC Center.
The Chants fell to 4-3 with some challenging opponents upcoming before their Sun Belt Conference schedule begins in late December.
Coastal coach Cliff Ellis is blending a team that features all-conference senior point guard Jaylen Shaw, three new starters that have come to the team as junior college tranfers and a true freshman that receives significant playing time.
Coastal’s previous two home games were against non-Division I opponents Piedmont International and St. Andrews and it won those games by a combined 88 points.
Wofford (4-4) was a different animal, with a bevy of outside shooters led by junior Fletcher Magee, who hit 10 of 14 shots including all five of his three-point attempts to post 26 points and bump his season scoring average to 22.5 points per game. The Terriers hit 56 percent (14 of 25) of their 3-pointers.
“They’re a team that can just score. This has always been what they do, they can flat out shoot the ball,” Ellis said. “Magee, he’s a pro, offensively he’s a pro. He just makes things happen. He’s unbelievable and uncanny. He just comes off of everything firing. … He’s as good a shooter as we’re going to see.”
Wofford held an eight-point lead at halftime on the strength of 16 points off turnovers, as the Chants committed 11 of their 17 turnovers in the first half.
“We weren’t patient and tried to make plays on the first side of the floor,” Ellis said. “When you have a team like that you can’t turn the ball over the way we turned it over in the first half.”
The Terriers lead was extended to 13 points six minutes into the second half following 3-pointers by Storm Murphy, Trevor Stumpe and Magee, and a long two-point jumper by Magee, who already had 20 points at that juncture.
The Chants would cut the deficit to three points with a 10-0 run that included a Demario Beck dunk off a nice dish from Shaw and four points from Zac Cuthbertson. The lead was cut to a point following another Beck dunk with 9:30 remaining.
But a Stumpe trey pushed the advantage back to four, and after not hoisting a shot for more than seven minutes, Magee hit a pair of treys in the final seven minutes to help hold off the Chants.
“We just didn’t have enough gas after we cut it to one,” Ellis said.
Shaw scored a career-high 26 points on 10 of 16 shooting to bump his season scoring average to 15.6 points, and he leads the team with 4.3 assists and nearly two steals per game.
Shaw is second in scoring to Cuthbertson, 6-7 junior forward who is among the influx of players who have made Ellis comfortable going nine players deep early this season.
We’ve got enough talent. There’s more talent on this team than any team I’ve played on here and these guys can really go. We’ve just got to put it together and we’ll make it work.
CCU senior guard Jaylen Shaw
The new additions to the starting lineup are Cuthbertson from Mineral Area College in Missouri, 6-4 junior guard Ajay Sanders from Olney Central College, and 6-1 guard Matt Lindsay, a North Myrtle Beach High alumnus, from Cape Fear Community College.
Cuthbertson led the Chants in scoring in four of their five games. “I think I fit in pretty good in our system,” he said. “I could come here and do what I’m doing now, just not as quick. I bring a lot of versatility to this team. I can play inside and outside. I think that helps us on the offensive side and defensive side as well because I can guard a big man and guard a guard as well.”
The sinewy forward is averaging team highs with 19.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game and scored a season-high 31 points in a win over Iona in the Island of the Bahamas Showcase, in which the Chants went 2-1 to finish third.
“Zac gives us that element,” Ellis said. “We lost three major players a year ago in [Shivaughn] Wiggins, Colton Ray St. Cyr and Elijah Wilson, and Zac replaced Colton. I think in time he’ll be able to get it. … He can do so many things. Hopefully he can learn from these games and get better.”
Lindsey is an outside shooter who leads the Chants in 3-pointers and Sanders has an all-around game and is averaging 5.6 points and 5.4 rebounds despite being hampered by an early-season injury.
They have joined Shaw and 6-9 junior center Josh Coleman in the starting lineup and allowed Ellis to bring impact players off the bench in senior forward Beck, who is averaging 10 points and 6 rebounds in 19 minutes per game, and sophomore guard Artur Labinowicz, who is averaging 10 points and 4.5 rebounds in 22 minutes. Sophomore forward Amidou Bamba and freshman guard Tre Brown of Tacoma, Wash., are also averaging more than 9 minutes per game.
“We’ve got enough talent,” Shaw said. “There’s more talent on this team than any team I’ve played on here and these guys can really go. We’ve just got to put it together and we’ll make it work.
“With Zac and a couple of the other guys it makes our team a little better,” Shaw continued. “We can go deeper on the bench and we can mix it up a little more. A guy like Zac we haven’t had in over two years. He can mix it up and play outside and inside. It just helps us.”
The Chants host Lamar, which already has a six-point win over them, on Saturday before facing Hampton, South Carolina, Wake Forest and College of Charleston leading to the conference opener against Sun Belt favorite Texas-Arlington on Dec. 29.
“We’ve got to figure it out quick,” Ellis said. “We’ve got to continue to grind because we’re playing good teams.”