CONWAY, S.C. - Charleston Southern staged a furious comeback from a late ten-point deficit to take a one-point lead on a Matt Kennedy three-pointer with 49 seconds left, but Coastal Carolina's Warren Gillis answered with a jumper to help the Chanticleers prevail, 63-61, at The HTC Center on Saturday.
Gillis' jumper from the top of the key accounted for the final two of his game-high 21 points and gave Coastal a 62-61 advantage at the 36 second mark. CSU's Arlon Harper had a floater go off the back rim on the Bucs' next possession, and Coastal's Michel Enanga corralled the rebound. Enanga split one of two free throws, giving CSU one final chance at the victory. The Bucs got a great look with just 2.3 seconds left, as Cedrick Bowen hit Kennedy for an open three from the right wing. Kennedy's running attempt at the buzzer was long, though, allowing Coastal to hold on for the win.
Coastal (18-12, 11-5 BSC) clinched the Big South's South Division title and a first-round bye in the Big South Tournament with the victory. CSU (12-17, 6-10 BSC) is the No. 5 seed on the South Division side of the bracket, and will play Campbell, the No. 4 North Division seed on Wednesday at 6 p.m. in opening round play.
Kennedy and Will Saunders paced the Bucs with 16 points apiece, and spearheaded a 14-3 run that turned a 57-47 deficit with just 4:06 left into a 61-60 lead 3:17 later.
Kennedy began the charge with a pull-up jumper from the elbow, and Saunders swished a pair of free throws to bring CSU within six. Following a Coastal free throw, Harper drove the baseline for a left-handed reverse layup, slicing the Chanticleers' advantage to 58-53 at the 2:50 mark. Saunders followed with two more makes at the charity stripe to whittle the CSU deficit to three.
Coastal's Badou Diagne knocked down two free throws to quell some of CSU's momentum, but the Bucs scored the next six points to surge in front. Saunders split a pair at the line, and Harper connected on two clutch free throws to make the score 60-58. After a defensive stop, Harper found Kennedy spotted up in the left corner on a fast break. Kennedy's shot from in front of the Bucs' bench hit nothing but net, putting CSU on top, 61-60, with 49 seconds remaining. Gillis provided the response for Coastal, however, and the Chanticleers triumphed when Kennedy's three at the final horn sailed long.
CSU knew it would have to play well to upend a Coastal team playing for a division championship on its home floor, and head coach Barclay Radebaugh's club controlled the first half after falling into an early 8-2 hole. The Bucs led by as many as eight twice, shot 50 percent from the field and were active defensively, limiting the Chanticleers to only 31 percent shooting and a 1-of-9 effort from three-point range.
Threes by Strickland, Gombwer and Saunders highlighted a 13-3 first half spurt that erased the early 8-2 Coastal lead and put CSU ahead by four.
Saunders' triple from the left wing gave CSU a 15-11 lead, and the Bucs would push the cushion to 21-13 on a Ty'Quan Bitting shot from in close and a Harper steal and lay in in transition. The Bucs enjoyed another eight-point advantage at 25-17 with 5:25 left in the half, as Strickland found Kennedy for a layup off a backdoor cut.
Bitting provided a spark off the bench in another balanced first half effort that saw eight players reach the scoring column. He provided one of the highlights of the first half, partially blocking a Diagne shot and throwing down a right-handed dunk on CSU's ensuing possession. That slam gave the Bucs a 28-21 lead, and the advantage stood 32-25 at intermission thanks to a Bowen 17-foot jumper.
Kennedy drained a deep three from the left wing early in the second half to stay a perfect 5-of-5 from the field at that point and give CSU a 36-29 lead at the 17:03 mark. That basket would be the Bucs' only field goal of the first 10:21 of the second stanza, though, as the Chanticleers' defense stalled the CSU attack.
CSU's own defense kept it in the game, but Coastal made enough shots to take control. The Chanticleers tallied 15 of the first 19 points of the second half overall, with a Gillis baseline turnaround providing a 38-36 lead with 12:47 remaining.
Coastal's Josh Cameron struggled to a 2-of-15 shooting day, including 1-of-9 from downtown – he came in a 47 percent three-point shooter in Big South play – but sailed through a clutch triple from the left wing for a 47-39 lead with 8:17 left.
CSU would cut the lead to four on two free throws by Bitting and a Paul Gombwer fast break dunk off a turnover, only to see Coastal push its cushion back to ten. Coastal freshman Elijah Wilson, who posted 18 points, drilled a three to give the Chanticleers an eight-point lead at 53-45. El Hadji Ndieguene's dunk put Coastal up 57-47 with just over four minutes left, before CSU engineered a late comeback bid that came up just short for a second straight game.
The Bucs play Campbell in the opening round of the Big South Tournament Wednesday at the HTC Center in Conway, S.C. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. as CSU tries to avenge a 65-57 road loss to the Fighting Camels on January 29.