Coastal Carolina

Chants ready for New Hampshire as CIT journey continues

CCU’s Badou Diagne puts a shot up over Mercer’s Cory Kilby during Tuesday’s game.
CCU’s Badou Diagne puts a shot up over Mercer’s Cory Kilby during Tuesday’s game. jlee@thesunnews

Senior forward Badou Diagne had the most interesting comment after the Coastal Carolina men’s basketball team topped Mercer in the first round of the Postseason Tournament on Tuesday night.

He said playing in that game, with the camaraderie he felt around his teammates and the support he felt from the crowd in what could have been the last game of his collegiate career, convinced him that he wanted to pursue playing professionally after this season.

Sophomore guard Jaylen Shaw, meanwhile, added some further perspective as the Chanticleers now prepare for their second-round CIT matchup Saturday at The HTC Center against New Hampshire.

“We’re playing and we’re playing hard, but at the same time we’re having fun and you can’t really beat that,” Shaw said. “We’re all out there having fun.”

Whatever regrouping the Chants (19-11) had to do after an early exit in the Big South tournament to get fired up for a tertiary postseason event, it seems they’ve found their motivation – especially after earning the first official postseason victory in program history with that 65-57 win over Mercer.

And as one of just 13 teams left from the 26-team CIT field (three teams are receiving a bye into the quarterfinals), the Chants also feel they have a real shot at making a deep run in this tournament.

“I think everybody’s excited. Everybody wants to win, and I think our focus here is to anytime you’re involved with a championship, try to get it,” coach Cliff Ellis said. “… When you look at the teams that are involved, it’s very, very impressive. New Hampshire is an impressive team. As we win and get further, UC Irvine, they’re in this field and they could have been in the NCAA tournament. Columbia, a team that is in the Ivy league and we saw what Yale did, they are a favorite you would say. Texas-Arlington, they really had it going out of the Sun Belt. That’s a team that beat Ohio State and beat Memphis on the road. Those are teams that are out there. This thing is only going to build as it goes.”

New Hampshire (20-12), out of the America East Conference, advanced to the second round with a 77-62 win over Fairfield.

Tanner Leissner, a 6-foot-7 sophomore forward, leads the Wildcats in scoring at 15.9 points per game with 7.2 rebounds per contest, junior guard Jaleen Smith averages 13.4 points per game and 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Iba Camara averages 7.7 points and a team-high 8.8 rebounds.

“They’re a bigger team than we’re used to facing,” Shaw said. “We’ve just got to take that challenge on and just try to take advantage of some things.”

Camara is from Dakar, Senegal, which is also where the Chants’ Diagne calls home.

As for Diagne, he made his return to action Tuesday after missing three games with a partially-torn fascia in his foot and responded with nine points and eight rebounds. Ellis said the senior forward continues to improve health-wise.

“I’d say he’s gone from 65 percent to 75 percent. That’s my observation with him. Every day we get better with him,” Ellis said.

Once again, the Chants are paying a $38,500 guarantee to host this game and Ellis said the school is hoping to host as many rounds as possible if the team continues to advance.

First, though, they need to win Saturday.

“Everybody’s excited to be able to play the second round of the CIT and be able to host it here,” Ellis said. “We’ve got an eastern matchup in New Hampshire, a team that’s won 20 games. I’m very impressed with their team with what I’ve seen on film. It’s a very quick turnaround, but they’ve got a very good inside game, they’ve got good guards and are a very impressive basketball team. But anybody you play at this point in time is good, and we’ve got to focus now on what we do and put our system against their system. I think the keys to the game are going to be what they normally are – who can make shots, who can rebound and protect the basketball.” Postseason Tournament

Second Round

Who: New Hampshire at Coastal Carolina

Where: The HTC Center, Conway

When: 2 p.m. Saturday

Radio: WSEA-FM 100.3