Game #9-472: North Carolina-Asheville Bulldogs at Coastal Carolina ChanticleersFebruary 19, 2013 7:00 pm
We are finally in the homestretch of the season. After an up and down start to the season, we know who the contenders are in the Big South. At least we think we know, anyway. The Big South North Division has looked shaky most of the season, with High Point in first. In the Big South South Division, there are still plenty of teams looking to move toward a conference title. I have already written about Charleston Southern playing Gardner-Webb before
. Tonight at the HTC Center would be UNC Asheville and Coastal Carolina, the other two South Division contenders. I came to this game knowing that these teams could be playing each other at the HTC Center again later with bigger stakes on the line as this is the home site of the conference tournament. But first we had the conference regular season race in the all too often forgotten month of February.
UNC Asheville entered this game at 9-4 in the Big South, practically even with Gardner-Webb for second and just behind Charleston Southern for first. UNCA was only 15-12, but that was because of a very challenging schedule out of conference. It was that schedule that led Jeremy Atkinson to believe that they should "kill" once they got into conference play following a close loss at nationally ranked N.C. State. The Bulldogs of Asheville are certainly used to winning, having won the last two tournaments as well as the Big South regular season title a year ago. While much of the players have changed over with Atkinson being the lone returning starter, the Bulldogs came into Big South play with the expectation of winning. Now they needed another big win in a place they would have to win at come March.
Coastal Carolina on the other hand has struggled a bit after coming in with high expectations. While CCU is led by two senior guards in Kierre Greenwood and Anthony Raffa, the Chanticleers are otherwise inexperienced. Coastal came in with 12-12 record and were 7-6 in the Big South, making the Chants fourth of six in the division. Coastal has particularly struggled on the road this year, which is often a sign of struggling come March. But for Coastal, road play will not be a concern for the conference tournament. That is because the Big South rewarded CCU for building the HTC Center
with hosting the Big South Tournament (actually more because the Myrtle Beach Visitors' Center poured a lot of money into sponsorship). Coastal does not need to win on the road as a result. But they still need to show they can beat good teams, and that is where a win tonight would go far.
So what did we really have to play for? Coastal already has sewn up hosting the tournament, and that is when a NCAA berth will be determined. But there were a few things to play for. Most importantly, UNC Asheville had a good chance at a bye to the quarterfinals if they won tonight. Coastal also had an outside chance at a bye, and could still catch UNCA for third and play last place Longwood in the first round if they did not finish in the top two. UNCA still had an outside chance at winning the conference regular season title to ensure at least a ghost bracket appearance after the conference tourney. And there is a lot of pride in winning a regular season title if you can get there, even though we seem to as a college basketball society put more stake into what goes on in March. The whole season has a degree of importance, and that needs to be emphasized.
And the whole season also means that you want to play for the pride of winning every game you can. Winning a big game like tonight can give a team a sense of pride and importance as their win total mounts. If you are a school that won't do much in March, you still play for what you can get. That is especially true for the non-contenders, who are often happy below the Red Line just to finish with a winning record. But even for teams like UNC Asheville and Coastal, you want to keep playing for bigger things even if they are small to others. For a lot of teams, that is the pride of a 20 win season or a record number of wins. Neither team had a realistic shot of having their greatest season ever, at least not unless they did great in the postseason. But there is always the all important factor of momentum, as you want to be confident going into the conference tournament.
And with the tournament at Coastal, the theme was "Beach Night". The Big South has tried to build up the conference tournament by promoting its location through beach themes. Of course for Coastal fans, the beach theme would not be that exciting since they won't have to travel to the tournament. And the beach theme is a bit hokey anyway, considering that CCU and the HTC Center is actually not that close to the actual beach. From the Coastal Carolina campus, one must take U.S. Highway 501 nine miles through heavy traffic past a slew of outlet malls. But it does not stop the conference from promoting the destination site, which for Coastal fans they know pretty well.
When I got to the HTC Center, the ticket taker said he hoped it would be a good game. I told him that it should be, given that both teams have done well at times so far in conference play. And I could tell that the crowd at Coastal Carolina seemed ready for this one. Coastal season ticket holder Matt Cayuela
has complained before about the lack of support basketball gets at CCU compare to baseball and football. But Coastal had a pretty good cheering section going, with a crowd of 2,424 that was not that greatly exaggerated.
And that good crowd support got the Chanticleers going out of the start. Coastal led 11- at the first media timeout as Kierre Greenwood ran the offense pretty well. But that would not last very long. UNC Asheville came back with baskets by Jeremy Atkinson to make the game even again midway through the first half. The game would continue to go back and forth between the two teams in the first half as neither was able to get much separation for very long. The game would prove to be a grindout between the stars of each team, Atkinson of UNCA and Anthony Rafa for Coastal. And it would prove to not be decided until late, with Coastal and Asheville tied at 34-34 at halftime.
The halftime show was a mascot game. They probably had more mascots than they needed, seeming to have invited a mascot from every local business imaginable. But it of course made for havoc on the court, as the court was completely packed with different colorful outfits. It reminded me a bit of the mascot teams in EA Sports' NCAA Football video games, where you can flatten a football player using Otto the Orange of Syracuse. But with the mascots all over the place, there was not much room for anybody to get momentum. As you would suspect the home mascot looked the best, as Chauncey the Chanticleer proved that he could play point guard.
The second half would now start of well for the home team. After the Chants scored the first 3 points, the Bulldogs took the lead with an 8-0 run. Sam Hughes and Corey Littlejohn were the unlikely leaders for UNCA early in the second half, who seemed poised to building momentum again. UNC Asheville has a history of playing well in Conway, having beaten CCU at Kimbel Arena two years ago for the conference title. The Chanticleers were down six with ten minutes to play, and CCU coach Cliff Ellis had his head buried, hoping that things would change.
And things would indeed get better for Coastal. A combination of Raffa and the young forwards in Badou Diagne and El Hadji Ndieguene got Coastal back even with the Bulldogs quickly again. Diagne put CCU up one with four minutes left, and the game would then go back and forward after that. Both teams fought for position in trying to win just as they were in the standings. Atkinson made free throws with just over a minute left to put UNC Asheville ahead again with a minute left. But Raffa then got to the line to give Coastal the lead again. And then D.J. Cunningham made this omgdunx with 20 seconds left to put the Bulldogs in the drivers' seat again.
Coastal had one last chance, and they were going to make it count in front of a solid home crowd. Greenwood calmly took the ball out of the timeout and dribbled up the court as the Bulldogs looked to be on their heels in anticipation. As UNCA cautiously stood back waiting to see where Greenwood would go with the ball, the Chanticleer point guard drove into the lane just past the free throw line, pulled up from the defense and calmly knocked down a ten footer with six seconds to give Coastal the lead again. Asheville would respond less calmly, as they chose not to take a timeout and had to hurry in dribbling down the court where they could only manage a forced shot in the corner that sailed harmlessly away. Coastal had gotten a big win at home they were looking for, and the excited students responded by sort of rushing the court. You can see the ending of the game here. This may have only been a regular season game, but Coastal Carolina was pumped for this one point win.
Unfortunately for these teams, this game mattered more as a momentum killer for UNC Asheville rather than a boost for Coastal Carolina. UNC Asheville fell further behind Gardner-Webb in the standings, taking away their chance at a first round bye. And Coastal still would not be able to get themselves past the 4 spot in the South Division, making the Chanticleers having to play a hot team in Liberty at home in their first game. And ultimately that would prove to be fatal to the chances for both teams involved here. So February games do matter, and we need to watch them. It's a shame that many casual fans view Our Game as a March spectacle, and more needs to be done to make more of the season interesting to casual fans. But for real basketball fans, there is always something to play for at all times of the year.
at COASTAL CAROLINA 65, NORTH CAROLINA-ASHEVILLE 64
NORTH CAROLINA-ASHEVILLE 15-13 (9-5) -- C. Littlejohn 4-7 2-2 12; W. Weeks 1-4 4-5 6; T. Meyer 2-9 0-0 5; J. Nwannunu 2-2 0-0 4; J. Atkinson 6-13 6-8 18; D. Cunningham 4-9 0-0 8; M. Neely 0-2 0-0 0; S. Hughes 4-4 0-0 11; J. Roberts 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-50 12-15 64.
COASTAL CAROLINA 13-12 (8-6) -- K. Greenwood 4-8 0-0 9; B. Diagne 4-8 4-6 12; A. Raffa 8-16 2-2 22; W. Gillis 3-8 0-0 6; E. Ndieguene 2-4 2-2 6; M. Enanga 3-7 2-2 8; T. Curtis 1-2 0-0 2; U. Ljeskovic 0-1 0-0 0; J. Daniel 0-0 0-0 0; C. Ashford 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-54 10-12 65.
Three-point goals: UNCA 6-15 (T. Meyer 1-6; J. Atkinson 0-2; C. Littlejohn 2-4; S. Hughes 3-3), CCU 5-18 (A. Raffa 4-10; K. Greenwood 1-2; W. Gillis 0-2; B. Diagne 0-3; M. Enanga 0-1); Rebounds: UNCA 25 (W. Weeks 6), CCU 27 (E. Ndieguene 9); Assists: UNCA 14 (T. Meyer 3), CCU 14 (W. Gillis 5); Total Fouls -- UNCA 15, CCU 18; Fouled Out: UNCA-None; CCU-None.
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