Coastal Carolina

Coastal Carolina to host Mercer in first round of CIT; Diagne to return

Coastal Carolina forward Badou Diagne will return to the floor for the Chanticleers first round CIT matchup.
Coastal Carolina forward Badou Diagne will return to the floor for the Chanticleers first round CIT matchup. The Sun News

Coastal Carolina men’s basketball coach Cliff Ellis and his team are eager for the postseason to begin, and senior forward Badou Diagne is expected to play a big role.

Diagne – who missed the last three games with a foot injury – announced at a press conference Friday that he will be ready to go. And while it’s not the prestigious NCAA Tournament the Chanticleers will be playing in, they plan to make the most of their situation as they enter the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT) beginning Tuesday.

Coastal Carolina (18-11) is also set to play in Conway at The HTC Center for at least a first round matchup – the first time the school has ever hosted a postseason game. It was announced Friday that Coastal would face off with the Mercer Bears (19-4), of the Southern Conference. Mercer is best remembered in recent years for their thrilling upset of Duke in the first round of the 2014 NCAA tournament, before falling to Tennessee in the second round.

The Bears are the only program in the country to record wins in all four postseason tournaments in the last four years. They won the College Insider Tournament in 2012 and also advanced to the National Invitation Tournament round of 32 in 2013. They advanced to the second round of the College Basketball Invitational last season.

Mercer is one of seven teams to have won a CIT championship and have the opportunity to be the first program to win multiple titles in the tourney, according to a news release.

“Very excited. This is a great time of year,” said Ellis, who has led Coastal Carolina to a postseason appearance six times in his seven year tenure at the school. “To be able to host a postseason tournament says a lot. Now it becomes a win-or-go-home situation and to be able to play at home is special.”

Particularly for Diagne, who missed Coastal’s 68-60 senior night win over Charleston Southern, and had to sit out during the Chants’ 69-65 loss to Gardner-Webb in the Big South conference tournament quarterfinals.

Now, Diagne is certainly ready for some postseason play.

“It was really tough. I felt like I was tired and someone was beating me and I couldn't do anything about it,” Diagne said being sidelined in the team’s loss to Gardner-Webb. “… But it’s very important for us seniors to ride it as long as we can. If we can play five more games, we’ll play five more games. If we can play 20 more games, we’ll do it. We’re going to enjoy it; it’s not like we’re forcing ourselves. We enjoy playing the games.”

Ellis confirmed that Diagne will be ready to go for the first round, but admitted the 6-foot-7 forward won't be at full strength.

“I think he’ll be able to [play],” Ellis said of Diagne, who has averaged 11.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game as a senior. “Badou practiced [Thursday]; it was good seeing him. He’s going to give it a try, but he’s not going to be 100 percent. … He’s probably 65 percent, but that 65 percent is needed.”

Coastal will be seeking its first-ever postseason victory in program history Tuesday, although it did win an NCAA tournament play-in game over Jackson State in 1991.

And the Chants – who have made the NCAA tournament each of the last two seasons – have also been a part of the CIT before, falling to Old Dominion in the first round of the tournament in 2012. Coastal Carolina made two NIT appearances in 2010 and 2011 as well.

The CIT consists of five rounds played over three weeks, and the semifinals (March 27) and championship game (March 29) will be televised live on CBS Sports Network. The entire 32-team field is made up of non-Power 5 programs who are not selected to participate in the NCAA or NIT tournaments and all 31 games are played on campus sites.

Coastal Carolina is approaching the CIT the same way it would the NCAA tournament.

“It’s huge. It’s March Madness and the madder you are, the better you are. That’s why they call it March Madness. It’s going to be exciting basketball,” Ellis said. “Everyone you play now is going to be good. … If you can’t get excited about postseason, you don't even need to be here.”

Ellis said he would also like to see a full house at The HTC Center.

“It’s very important to our team and what we’re doing that we pack this place,” he said. “There’s nothing more exciting than postseason play and getting people behind you. We get to showcase our school and what we do nationally Tuesday night. We want everyone to come out; it would be huge for us.”

The 32-team field is made up of non-Power 5 programs, not selected to participate in the NCAA or NIT (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, PAC-12 and SEC teams are not considered), according to a release. All 31 games are played on campus sites. The CIT features five rounds of play over the next three weeks. The semifinals (March 27) and championship game (March 29) will be televised live on CBS Sports Network.

Diagne and the Chants aren’t underestimating any of their opposition as they fight to keep their season going on Tuesday.

“We realize it’s a good tournament,” Diagne said. “A lot of good teams are in it and we’re excited for it.”

And Ellis would like his seniors (Diagne, Tristian Curtis, Michel Enanga, Aaron Law) to go out on a strong note before Coastal makes a move to the Sun Belt conference next season.

“I want to see our seniors go out the right way,” he said. “We want to build for the future, but we want to see these seniors go out the right way.”

Max McKinnon: 843-626-0302, @mmckinnonTSN

IF YOU GO

When: 7 p.m.

Where: HTC Center, Conway

Tickets: $15 for reserved Teal seats, $12 for reserved Bronze section seats, $10 for general admission, $8 for those 18 and under

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