BSC Tourney: Coastal wins, eyes rematch with Winthrop

10706778The third time was the charm for No. 3 seed Coastal Carolina against No. 7 seed Gardner-Webb in Saturday afternoon’s 2015 VisitMyrtleBeach.com Big South Men’s Basketball Championship semifinal at The HTC Center. After losing a pair of regular-season meetings to the Runnin’ Bulldogs, the Chanticleers held off Gardner-Webb for a 73-70 victory and the right to defend their conference championship.

Gardner-Webb never led in the game, but senior point guard Tyler Strange scored seven points in the last 54 seconds, giving his team a chance. After Coastal Carolina’s Elijah Wilson split a pair of free throws with 9.6 seconds remaining, both Strange and Harold McBride misfired on potential game-tying three-pointers and the Chanticleers escaped with a victory.

“This was a really physical game. They made some shots, we made some shots and we just hit one more down the stretch. Give credit to Gardner-Webb for a heck of a game, but I’m proud of our team for showing resilience down the stretch,” said CCU Head Coach Cliff Ellis.

Coastal Carolina (23-9) shot 50.9 percent (29-of-57) from the field and pulled down 41 rebounds to Gardner-Webb’s 28. Individually, the Chanticleers’ starting frontcourt of Tristian Curtis and Badou Diagne played a key role. Curtis scored all 11 of his points before halftime and pulled down a game-high eight rebounds. Diagne scored 14 of his game-high 19 points during the final 20 minutes, connecting on all six of his second-half field goal attempts.

Wilson came off the bench to add 13 points for the Chanticleers, who will be part of the first championship game rematch in tournament history, Sunday afternoon. Coastal Carolina will square off with No. 5 seed Winthrop, which defeated No. 9 seed Longwood by a 71-58 score earlier Saturday afternoon. The game will tip off at 12:30 p.m. and air on ESPN2.

Making their fourth championship game appearance in the last six years, Coastal Carolina will aim for its first back-to-back Big South titles since 1990 and 1991.

Gardner-Webb falls to 20-14 despite putting four players in double digits, including Jerome Hill (17 points), Tyrell Nelson (15), Strange (14) and Adonis Burbage (11). Hill got to the foul line more often than any other player in tournament history and sank 13 of his record-breaking 19 attempts.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs attempted 16 more free throws than the Chanticleers, shooting 22-of-30 for 73.3 percent. However, Gardner-Webb shot only 38.2 percent (21-of-55) from the floor for the game.

Coastal Carolina connected on six of its first eight field goal attempts, taking a 14-9 lead to start the game.

Conversely, Gardner-Webb opened the contest at 4-of-17 from the field. However, the Runnin’ Bulldogs were able to stay in the game due to 12 Coastal Carolina turnovers in the opening half. Strange’s hoop at 6:37 pulled the Runnin’ Bulldogs to within 20-19.

But that was Gardner-Webb’s final made field goal of the opening half. Curtis scored seven points during an ensuing 16-6 run by the host Chanticleers. The junior’s layup 34 seconds before halftime gave Coastal Carolina its largest advantage of the first half, 36-25.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs pulled to within 36-28 at the intermission by making three of their 12 first-half free throws (on 18 attempts) during the final two seconds. Hill was 9-of-14 at the line by himself during the first 20 minutes, scoring a team-high 11 points for Gardner-Webb.

Curtis scored 11 points of his own to pace Coastal Carolina in the first half, and his four boards contributed to the Chanticleers’ 25-11 advantage on the glass.

Coastal Carolina took an 11-point lead (45-34) when Shivaughn Wiggins connected on a three-pointer at 13:53 of the second half.

A three-point play by Strange and Burbage’s third triple of the afternoon quickly cut Gardner-Webb’s deficit to 45-40 with 12:41 remaining.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs kept battling and made it a one-possession game (68-65) on a Strange layup with 54 ticks left, setting the stage for a frenetic final minute.

Warren Gillis calmly sank four free throws during the final 24 seconds for the Chanticleers, but the victory was not secure until McBride’s final three-point try clanged off of the rim.

Tickets are still available for the 12:30pm matchup with the Winthrop Eagles. This will be the first time in the history of the Big South Conference that a finals match has been played in back to back years with identical teams.

“We have to come out and play tomorrow,” said Ellis. “What a conference this is. I want to do everything that I can to give it the national recognition that it deserves. This league deserves more credit than it gets. It’s a compliment to both teams to get to the final.”

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