South Carolina coach Frank Martin gave Coastal Carolina the opportunity to host the Gamecocks for the first time, and the Chanticleers didn’t let the opportunity pass without making a statement.
CCU (3-2) notched one of the better and more impressive wins in program history Wednesday night in front of more than 2,900 at the HTC Center with an 80-56 beat down of its former big brother to the west.
Redshirt sophomore center Essam Mostafa notched the 12th double-double of his CCU career with 23 points and 13 rebounds, including 13 points in the first 7:30 of the second half, when the Chants pulled away and never looked back.
“Obviously I can’t say enough about the team because it was an awesome performance and there were so many guys that had so much to do with it,” CCU coach Cliff Ellis said. “. . . I can’t say enough about Frank Martin and South Carolina. I’m very appreciative of the fact that they came here. It means a lot to our program.”
Senior Kansas State transfer Rudi Williams added 19 points — including 15 in the first half — and a team-high six assists, and Vince Cole scored 16 for the Chants.
Jacobi Wright and Erik Stevenson were the lone Gamecocks in double figures with 11 and 12 points respectively, and the Gamecocks shot just 20 of 70 for a 28.6 percentage. CCU shot 42 percent for the game.
The contest turned combative with 1.6 seconds remaining following a tie-up. CCU’s Deshawn Thomas bounced the ball toward a Gamecock player and received a technical foul, and Gamecocks center Josh Gray was ejected for tossing the ball off Thomas’ head. Martin apologized for the incident following the game.
South Carolina (5-2) entered the game with a fairly light early season schedule with wins over USC Upstate, Western Kentucky, UAB, Wofford and Rider, and a loss in its second game to Princeton.
The Gamecocks played without their leading scorer, talented 6-4 junior point guard Jermaine Couisnard, who is averaging 13.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game, and is shooting better than 40 percent from 3-point range. He missed the game with a groin injury.
“There’s nothing one person could’ve done that would’ve changed the game,” Martin said.
CCU opened up an early lead that was cut to one point at halftime.
Williams scored nine straight Coastal points in a span of just 1:38 to push an early Coastal lead to 15-9 about 6 minutes into the game. A pair of 3-pointers by Josh Uduje over 2 minutes helped the Chants open up a 13-point lead before the Gamecocks closed the half on a 17-5 run to cut the deficit to a point at 36-35.
But CCU took immediate command after the halftime break, building a 21-point lead just 7:30 into the second half on the strength of three 8-0 spurts that combined for a 24-4 run.
The Chants scored the first eight points of the second half on inside baskets by Ebrima Dibba, Cole and Mostafa, as well as a pair of Mostafa free throws.
The second run included a Cole 3-pointer, a Dibba layup and three points by Mostafa, and Mostafa accounted for six of the eight points in the final run with six free throws. He made 11 of 16 free throws in the game, as the Chants’ aggressiveness was rewarded with 38 free throws compared to 11 for the Gamecocks.
“In the first half Rudi kind of put us on his back and Essam really came on strong as the game went,” Ellis said. “. . . One thing about Essam is he’s like the Energizer bunny. He just goes and he goes and he goes, and his game really picked up, and I thought that was the key, because they were creating some turnovers and we just needed to get him the ball, and we did.”
A pair of dunks in the final six minutes accentuated CCU’s dominance on the night, one by Cole on a nice feed by Dibba and the other on a putback off the baseline by Wilfried Likayi.
The Chants withstood the premature loss of super senior guard Garrick Green, who fouled out with 10:22 remaining in the game and the Chants leading by 18. He exited with six points and eight rebounds and was among those setting the tone for CCU with his hustle.
CCU outrebounded the Gamecocks 49-38 and outscored them 32-18 in the paint, and Martin was particularly disappointed with the play of his big men, including 6-10 Wildens Leveque and Gray, a 7-foot sophomore transfer.
“They got nothing done. Other than acting like a complete clown at the end of the game we got nothing else done,” Martin said. “We played with no physicality, no presence on offense, no presence on defense, nothing. That’s including Wildens. It was just a complete waste of time the way our big guys played today.
“. . . Credit to Coastal for how they played, how hard they played and thoroughly kicked our tails.”
CCU is now 3-2 all-time vs. USC and last beat the Gamecocks in 1993, the year CCU broke away from the USC college system to become an independent institution, and Wednesday’s crowd was largely clad in teal and gold.
“That was special. I think that’s the best night ever since I got here at Coastal,” Mostafa said. “ . . . The atmosphere was crazy today. I loved it, and it was a great win for them. So I hope people keep coming to our games because I’ve said it before, every game is going to be like that. We’re making something different this year.”
CCU’s building blocks in 2021
Coastal is a team that is building as it goes this season with some key pieces that have come and gone through the transfer portal.
CCU lost three guards in DeVante’ Jones, last year’s Sun Belt Player of the Year, to a transfer to Michigan and Deanthony Tipler to a transfer to East Tennessee State, as well as Tyrik Dixon, who was a grad transfer last season.
The Chants added Cole, a senior guard and Charleston native who averaged 8.7 points per game for St. John’s last season; Williams, a senior guard from Kansas State; Likayi, a senior forward from New Mexico State; and Jourdan Smith, a junior forward from Northwest Florida State College.
They were added to the key pieces in place including Mostafa, who averaged 12 points and 9 rebounds last season, Green and Dibba, who led the 2020-21 team in assists.
“I think the more we play the better we get. I think we got better than the first game we played, we got better than the second game,” Mostafa said. “. . . I think we’re getting better every day, every single practice we’re getting better, the chemistry is getting better. So I think we fit in very well. I think we have very good players on the team and every single new player fits in very well together.”
The Chants previously defeated Valparaiso and Division III Ferrum and lost to UNC Wilmington and Toledo, and have five consecutive home games upcoming to complete a six-game homestand.
“I think we’re an experienced inexperienced team,” Ellis said. “By that, we’ve got players that have played, but we haven’t played together. Our biggest thing right now is getting that chemistry, and I don’t think we’ve played enough games right now to have it like we want to.”
At 1 p.m. on Saturday the Chants host Winthrop, which recently beat Washington of the Pac-12, and on Dec. 12 they host Wofford, which recently beat Georgia of the SEC.
“I think we’re going to be pretty good. At the same point in time I think everybody we play is good,” Ellis said. “. . . These teams are all good and the league is really good. So it’s going to be a battle royale every time we play. So you just want to dig in and be tough, but I think there are going to be some great games. Now that we’re through the COVID, I think our fans are in for some tremendous basketball.
“I think this is probably the toughest non-conference schedule, with Division I games, that we’ve ever played since I’ve been here.
The Chants have six non-conference games remaining before the first of 18 conference games on Dec. 30 leading into the Sun Belt Conference championship in early March.
“With this transfer portal and the way things are today I think that’s pretty much the way it is for a lot of people that utilize the transfer portal, it’s going to take a little bit of time to mix it together,” Ellis said. “You’re trying to mix the ones that have been here with the guys that have played at other schools and try to put it together. But it’s coming around.”
Legendary peers honor Ellis
Prior to the opening tip-off Wednesday, Ellis was honored at midcourt for notching his 800th win as an NCAA Division I coach with the Chants’ win over Valparaiso on Nov. 23 in a tournament in the Bahamas.
A tribute on the video board featured congratulations from legendary coaches Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari, Bob Huggins and Tubby Smith.
“It was totally a shock. It really was very emotional. Each one of them means so much,” Ellis said. “. . . And none of them let me in on anything that was going on with regards to what was said. For those guys to do that it just shows the friendships and the contacts of the people you meet over the years.”
Ellis, who will be 76 on Sunday, is just the 13th coach in NCAA Division I history to have 800 career wins, and is one of just four active coaches to hit the milestone along with Krzyzewski, Huggins and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim.
He has 171 wins at South Alabama, 179 at Clemson, 186 at Auburn and now 267 at Coastal. He also has 879 wins as a collegiate coach regardless of level.
Ellis said that he is a longtime friend of both Smith and Huggins, he speaks to Calipari about once a week, and that he and Coach K were the youngest head coaches in the country at their first jobs in 1975 — Ellis at South Alabama and Krzyzewski at Army. Both were in their late 20s.
“I certainly want a copy of that because that’s something that my wife and I will cherish for a long time,” Ellis said. “It was a tremendous thought that I humbly take. It’s a number of wins but it really and truly about all of the players that have played from game 1 to 801. It’s really not about me it’s about those guys. And it’s about those relationships that have been made through the years with not only the players but opposing coaches and people like that.”