Neither coach Cliff Ellis nor his players wanted to look beyond the next game, but as one of just eight schools advancing to the next round of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament the Coastal Carolina men’s basketball team is looking like a legitimate contender in the dwindling field.
The Chanticleers used a similar script to the one that worked against Mercer in the first round, starting slow Saturday before taking control in the second half on the way to a 71-62 second-round win over New Hampshire before a crowd of 847 at The HTC Center.
With that, the Chants advance in the CIT and will host a quarterfinals matchup Wednesday at 7 p.m. against an opponent to be determined.
“It means a lot. For us seniors, we’re trying to ride it as long as we can, just take it game by game and just focus on winning,” senior forward Badou Diagne said. “We’re trying to get a championship.”
Diagne was one of the stars for the Chants (20-11) in this one, scoring 19 points and grabbing a team-high 10 rebounds off the bench while hitting 8-of-10 shots overall and going 3-of-3 from 3-point range.
Junior guard Elijah Wilson also scored 19 and sophomore guard Jaylen Shaw added 16 in the win.
After shooting a dismal 28.1 percent in the first half, the Chants hit 51.6 percent of their shots after halftime while shooting an incredible 80 percent (8-of-10) on 3-pointers.
“It was a hard-fought win, almost a duplicate of game one,” Ellis said. “Both teams played hard-nosed defense, trying to figure each other out. We weren’t able to make a lot of shots [early] with the exception of Badou Diagne. He had a tremendous first half and kind of kept us in there. In the second half, like game one, Jaylen and Elijah came alive and when they did it just opened up and our defense stayed strong throughout. And it was just a tremendous hard-fought win.”
New Hampshire (20-13) led 28-25 at halftime, but the Chants erased that deficit immediately as Shaw drained a 3 from the right wing on the opening possession of the second half.
It remained back and forth until the Chants took the lead for good midway through the second half. Junior guard Shivaughn Wiggins dropped in a go-ahead 3 from the top of the arc and Shaw followed two possessions later with a long 3 from the right wing to give the hosts a 44-38 lead.
“It builds. The momentum goes. It was fun to see, fun to watch. But New Hampshire wouldn’t go away,” Ellis said. “… It was just a tremendous display of basketball by both teams. It was postseason action in between those lines. It was exciting to watch.”
After the Wildcats’ Jacoby Armstrong completed a 3-point play, Wilson caught fire for the Chants while scoring eight of the team’s next nine points. His second 3 during that spurt came on a fastbreak as he caught a pass, stepped back behind the arc on the side and drained another big shot to make it a 53-44 lead with 7:02 to play.
And the Chants remained in control the rest of the way.
It means a lot. For us seniors, we’re trying to ride it as long as we can, just take it game by game and just focus on winning. We’re trying to get a championship.
CCU senior forward Badou Diagne
Wilson was scoreless in the first half, missing both of his shot attempts, before shooting 7-of-11 for all of his 19 points after halftime.
“My teammates did a good job of setting me up and putting me in the best situation to score and I was fortunate enough to knock it down,” he said. “And it wasn’t just me that caused the little run. Badou did, Jaylen did, everybody contributed something to the second half when we went on the run. It’s a team thing and we’re all starting to get on one page with what we need to do.”
With his big game, Wilson moved past former teammate Warren Gillis for 10th place on Coastal Carolina’s career scoring list with 1,354 points, and with another year of eligibility remaining he could find himself chasing Jack Leasure (1,893 points) for second on that list or, with a really productive senior season, possibly even career scoring leader Tony Dunkin (2,151).
“It’s a good little achievement. Ever since I was young I always worked hard and I always wanted to try to be the best I could be at anything I did,” Wilson said. “I was fortunate enough to be put in the right situation to come here and it’s paid off in my favor. I’m just happy and blessed to be in the position I am now.”
Dion led New Hampshire with 16 points while Tanner Leissner finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
As for the Chants, they’ll now wait to learn who they play in the next round. The CIT, which started with 26 teams, doesn’t use a fixed bracket, instead determining matchups after each completed round, and the last of the second round games is not until Monday.
The Chants do know they’ll be hosting, though, and will hope to move one step closer to a tournament title.
“We’ll focus on the process,” Ellis said. “We’ll focus on taking them one game at a time because if you start looking ahead you’ll put yourself in the ditch.”