Chants capture first place with close win over Liberty

ccuhoops-22dunkJunior Warren Gillis of the Coastal Carolina men’s basketball team hit a fadeaway jumper off the glass to give the Chants a 66-64 victory over the visiting Liberty Flames Wednesday night inside The HTC Center.

The win ends Liberty’s unbeaten streak inside The HTC Center. The Flames’ men’s and women’s basketball teams were a combined 9-0 in The HTC Center since the building opened for competition prior to the 2012-13 season.

Gillis scored a game-high 18 points and had a team-high three assists. Gillis was 5-10 from the field and 8-9 at the free throw line. Junior Josh Cameron and freshman Elijah Wilson each added 13 points to the effort while Wilson pulled down a team-high five rebounds. Sophomore Badou Diagne was the fourth Chant in double-figures with 11 points and four rebounds. CCU is now 9-0 when having four or more players score in double-figures this season including 4-0 in conference play.

The win improves CCU’s record to 12-9 overall and 5-2 in Big South action. The Flames fall to 9-13 overall and 3-4 in conference play. The Chants now hold sole possession of first place in the Big South Conference South Division while CCU’s next opponent Campbell University holds the lead in the North Division with a 5-2 conference record as well.

Liberty won the rebounding battle 35-26 but CCu held the shooting percentage edge (46.8%-44.2%). CCU also knocked down seven 3-pointers compared to the Flames’ five. CCU edged Liberty in turnovers 14-13 and outblocked the taller Flames 5-3.

Coastal exploded out of the gates taking an early 7-0 lead over the opening two minutes. The Flames responded with an 11-2 run of their own and from that point on the first half went back and forth with neither team gaining a large advantage. The period ended with the Chants trailing 32-31. Both teams were 11-27 from the field in the opening period and also 4-10 from the free throw line. The difference came at the free throw line where Liberty hit 6-7 while the Chants knocked down 5-6.

CCU opened the second half with a 5-0 run to take a four-point advantage. CCU would hold onto the slim lead until the 10:46 mark of the second half when a jumper from Andrew Smith gave the Flames a 44-42 lead. The game would go back and forth over the next several minutes but with the Flames trailing 48-47 with 8:19 to play Liberty began a 5-0 run to take a four-point lead. Cameron ended the run with a 3-pointer to cut the lead to just one.

Coastal and Liberty would exchange two-point possessions over the next two minutes of action but when a CCU possession came up empty with four minutes to play Liberty’s John Caleb Sanders hit a layup to put the Flames up by five, 60-55. Cameron once again came up big for the Chants as he hit a 3-pointer with 3:25 left in the game that cut the lead to two and reenergized the CCU team and crowd. Liberty hit a layup to push the lead to four but Diagne came down and nailed a three for the Chants which cut the lead down to one.

Senior El Hadji Ndieguene came up with a huge steal on the defensive end with 1:41 to play. After a missed 3-pointer, Wilson grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled. Wilson hit one of two free throws to tie the game at 62. CCU’s strong defense forced a Liberty turnover on the Flames next possession and Wilson answered with a baseline jumper that put CCU up 64-62 with 52 seconds left on the clock.

Liberty would answer as Andrew Smith got an offensive rebound and tipped it in to tie the game with 26 seconds left on the clock. CCU called timeout and set up its final play. Gillis let the time run down and then drove the lane. After finding himself under a trio of LU defenders, Gillis kept his dribble and spun out of the lane. He turned and hit a fadeaway jumper that knocked off the glass and in with 1.5 seconds left on the clock.

Liberty was able to inbound the ball to halfcourt and call a timeout with 1.3 seconds left. CCU used Ndieguene to guard the in bounder on the final play which cut off most of the court. LU inbounded the ball to Antwan Burrus, a forward, who had to launch a long range 3-pointer that missed the mark as time expired.

CCU will travel to Campbell this Saturday to take on the Fighting Camels on ESPNU at 11 a.m.

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