The Big South Championship featured a pair of in-state rivals and charter members of the conference Sunday when Coastal Carolina took on Winthrop at the HTC Center, the home court of the Chanticleers. Unlike other mid-major conferences, the Chanticleers did not earn the home game but rather the full tournament is played on the Conway campus as a semi-neutral site.
Simply put, Coastal Carolina fans do not like the Winthrop Eagles. Sure, it's an in-state rivalry but the two schools are three hours apart and the hatred stems more from ten Big South Tournament championships and the fact the Eagles down Coastal Carolina in the title game in 2011 to keep the Chants from going back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1993. It also didn't help that the Eagles swept the Chants in the regular season.
However you want to break it down the in-state tie to this game and Coastal's hatred for Winthrop created a great environment in the HTC Center. Of course Winthrop had the greatest advantage of all in their mascot Big Stuff, who stares into the souls of opposing free throw shooters.
STARE DEEP INTO MY EYES pic.twitter.com/2bEqOABlma— Chris Lang (@ChrisLangLNA) March 8, 2014
Winthrop students also did their best to take away Coastal's home floor advantage. As their fans were ready about 45 minutes before tip-off.
Fans are ready pic.twitter.com/NtrcHulk4V— WU CREW (@WUCrew) March 9, 2014
Despite the heavy Coastal crowd the game did sound more like a neutral court set up with both student sections and fans participating the whole game.
GAME TIME!! pic.twitter.com/o2q86CB5Oq— Bryan Dillon (@BDillon612) March 9, 2014
Both teams came out firing from beyond the arc in this one, especially Coastal's Josh Cameron who powered the Chants to a 28-18 advantage with 5:10 remaining that forced Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey to take a timeout. Winthrop responded with a 6-0 run and a monster dunk from Tevin Prescott to cap the run.
Although it looked like the Eagles could take some momentum into halftime, Warren Gillis powered a similar 6-0 run by Coastal and went into halftime up 34-24. Gillis finished the half with 10 points, while Josh Cameron added 12. Despite the hot shooting from downtown, the Chants had the biggest advantage in the paint where they outscored the Eagles 18-8 at the half.
Coastal seized immediate control at the start of the second half after a steal and running layup from Cameron expanded the Chants lead to 15 at the 17:13 mark forcing an early Pat Kelsey timeout. Although Winthrop had a quick 5-0 run, the Eagles could never get into any kind of striking distance against the Chants. Meanwhile Coastal's student section looked ready to explode.
Back to back threes from Keon Moore and Andre Smith, along with some pressure defense, finally got Winthrop into a single-digit game just before the final media timeout. That was the closest as the Eagles would get though as they looked a bit gassed from the stretch of four games in five days.
Coastal Carolina cruised to a 76-61 win lead by Warren Gillis with 22 points and 7 assists. Josh Cameron added 19 points, while Badou Diagne added 17 points and 7 boards.
The win sends Coastal to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1993. Head coach is the eleventh coach in NCAA Division I history to take four different teams to the NCAA Tournament. He made the journey with South Alabama, Clemson, and most recently with Auburn in 2003.
Cliff Ellis and CCU are dancing. Cliff pic.twitter.com/DUxlAzJkuH— Rich Chrampanis (@Rich_WPDESports) March 9, 2014
The Chanticleers are most likely headed to Dayton for the First Four or will be a standalone 16 seed at best.
Winthrop will now wait for a hopeful bid from the CIT or CBI tournament.