Coastal delivers message with upset of UNC Asheville

Coastal Carolina delivered more than an upset of Big South Conference champion UNC Asheville on Tuesday night. The Chanticleers also delivered a message.

Coastal beat the Bulldogs 74-69 in Kimbel Arena, snapping a season-long three-game losing streak and letting UNC Asheville know that even though it has already wrapped up the regular-season title, the big prize is still in play.

That’s the league’s automatic bid to the Big Dance and the Big South Conference Tournament, which UNC Asheville will host later this month. The Chants sent a signal that they may be down, but they are not out of it.

But Coastal had to survive a comeback bid by the Bulldogs, who scored the game’s first four points but never led again after Coastal countered with a 15-0 run that got the packed house on its feet.

The Chants (18-8 overall, 11-5 Big South) built their lead to as many as 16 and carried a 35-20 advantage into the intermission. However, Coastal had to withstand a strong rally by UNCA in the second half.

The Bulldogs (19-8 overall, 14-2 Big South) closed the deficit to 1, 50-49 with just under 8 minutes remaining. But the Chants had answers for every run, most of them from senior guard Anthony Raffa.

After struggling during the Chants’ recent cold spell and scoring only three points in the first half, Raffa got hot when it counted and finished the night with a game-high 20 points.

Raffa drilled a 3-pointer with 3:20 remaining to build Coastal’s lead up to nine points at 65-56, but the Bulldogs had more fight left in them.

UNCA closed the gap to within three points at 67-64 in the final minute, but Raffa nailed a 3 with 36 seconds left, then hit four free throws in the closing seconds to put the game away.

Coastal’s Chris Gradnigo registered a double-double for the Chants with 15 points and 13 rebounds and John Pack had a career-high 14 points. Guard Kierre Greenwood came back from his one-game suspension to score 12 points.

The Chanticleers will play their final game at Kimbel Arena in Saturday’s bracket-busters showdown with Tennessee Tech.

Photo courtesy of CCU Athletics

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