Coastal Carolina tops Winthrop for Big South crown
Conway, SC (SportsNetwork.com) - Warren Gillis scored 22 points and Josh Cameron added 19, as Coastal Carolina captured the Big South title with a 76-61 victory over Winthrop and earned its first NCAA Tournament berth since 1993.
The Chanticleers (21-12) had lost their last three Big South championship game appearances, falling in 2011 to UNC-Asheville and in 2010 and 2006 to Winthrop. Sunday's victory made Cliff Ellis the 10th coach to take four different schools to the NCAA Tournament.
"I'm as proud of this team as any team I have had as a coach," said Ellis, who previously guided South Alabama, Clemson and Auburn to the NCAA Tournament. "We're glad to be known as champions."
Badou Diagne chipped in 17 points and Elijah Wilson contributed 12 for Coastal Carolina, which was playing on its home floor as the tourney's top seed and avenged a pair of regular-season losses to Winthrop.
Keon Moore scored 19 points and Joab Jerome finished with 13 for Winthrop (20-13), which was playing for the fourth time in five days. The Eagles had beaten Liberty in the first round on Wednesday, then knocked off North top seed High Point in Friday's quarterfinals and edged UNC-Asheville in Saturday's semifinals.
"I'm really proud of our team," said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey. "The last couple of days have been unbelievable and I just want to thank the guys for letting me be a part of it and taking me on the ride."
Winthrop fell to 10-2 all-time in the Big South championship game and had won its last nine in the title contest since a 1993 loss to Coastal Carolina.
Coastal Carolina opened a 12-6 edge early, but Winthrop followed with the next six points and grabbed its first lead at 17-16 on a three by Andre Smith. After a free throw by Jerome increased the advantage to a deuce, the Chanticleers answered with 12 straight.
Cameron's triple gave Coastal a 21-18 lead and his jumper with just over five minutes left in the half capped the surge and extended the cushion to 28-18. The Eagles responded with six straight to claw within four, but the Chanticleers scored the last six to build a 34-24 margin at the break.
Winthrop, the top 3-point shooting team in the Big South at 40 percent, made just 3-of-13 from beyond the arc in the first half and shot 27.6 percent overall in the first 20 minutes. Coastal Carolina shot 56 percent in the first half.
A three-point play by Jerome to start the second half pulled the Eagles within seven, but Coastal answered with the next eight points as Cameron's layup made it 42-27. The lead reached 18 with just under 10 minutes to play and it was still a 17-point bulge before Winthrop made one last push.
Moore and Smith connected on back-to-back threes to highlight an 8-0 run that pulled the Eagles within 61-52 with 4 1/2 minutes left, but the Chanticleers stemmed the tide with the next six and were never threatened again.
"It's another season and we don't want to be satisfied with just getting there," said Ellis about the NCAA Tournament. "Hopefully, my experience will come through and that we can match up, go out and show what we are made of. Our goal is to be the best that we can be in 40 minutes of time."
Coastal Carolina's last NCAA Tournament appearance resulted in an 84-53 first-round loss to top-seeded Michigan of "Fab Five" fame in 1993. The Chanticleers also made the NCAA Tournament in 1991 and fell to Indiana in the first round, 79-69 ... Winthrop's 10 Big South titles are still by far the most, as no other conference member has more than four ... Winthrop became the fourth team to reach the Big South title game after playing in the first round. Only Liberty, last year, managed to win the championship.