CONWAY, S.C. – Chris Stephenson scored 14 points, John Williams had 10 points and nine rebounds and North Carolina-Asheville beat Coastal Carolina 60-47 on Saturday in the Big South Conference title game.
The third-seeded Bulldogs (19-13) knocked off the top seed on the Chanticleers' home court to reach the NCAA tournament for the second time. UNC-Asheville's first bid came in 2003.
It's the second year in a row that Coastal Carolina (28-5) was the tournament's top seed and lost the title game. The Chanticleers will get an automatic bid to the NIT.
The Bulldogs never trailed, but couldn't put Coastal Carolina until Matt Dickey's 3-pointer with 1:39 left made it 54-47.
It seemed as if every time the Chanticleers had a chance to tie or take the lead, they turned the ball over. Coastal Carolina had 21 turnovers to UNC Asheville's 10.
And as the whole bench celebrated Jaron Lane's jam with 9.2 seconds left, Bulldogs coach Eddie Biedenbach cracked just a small smile as he made it to just his second NCAA tournament in 18 years of coaching.
Lane added 13 points and Dickey added 12 points for UNC Asheville, who has won six in a row.
Chad Gray led the Chanticleers with 13 points, while Sam McLaurin added 12 points and 11 rebounds.
For the second season, the pressure appeared to be too much for the Chanticleers, who got to host the title game because they went 16-2 in the Big South. They lost last year's title game to No. 3 seed Winthrop.
UNC Asheville jumped out to a 19-8 lead, thanks to seven turnovers by Coastal Carolina.
The Chanticleers slowly started to climb back. Anthony Raffa's 3-pointer with 11:27 left in the game cut UNC Asheville's lead to 39-37 and a block by Anthony Crawford gave Coastal Carolina a chance to tie or take the lead.
But on the next possession, Danny Nieman turned over the ball and Stephenson hit a shot to put the Bulldogs back up 41-37. The same scenario would play out four more times before Dickey's backbreaking 3-pointer in the final two minutes.
Dickey was named the tournament MVP. He averaged 20 points over the three games.
It was a devastating end to such a promising season for Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers once had the nation's longest winning streak at 22 games and were on the cusp of the top 25. But they lost three of their last six games.
Coastal Carolina coach Cliff Ellis nicknamed this team "The Great Eight" because they played their final five games with just seven scholarship players an a walk on after leading scorer Desmond Holloway was suspended for an eligibility issue and starting point guard Kierre Greenwood suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Then came a New York Times article reporting the NCAA was investigating Coastal Carolina for possible illegal benefits that former player Marcus Macellari told the newspaper were given to Holloway and other players. The school acknowledged reporting violations in 2010 to the NCAA, but didn't give specifics.
In that same article, Biedenbach suggested Ellis played with fire and got burned, upping the tension for Saturday's game even more.
(This version CORRECTS NC-Asheville 60, Coastal Carolina 47. Corrects Coastal's biggest first half lead to 19-8.)