CONWAY, S.C. - No. 1 Coastal Carolina defeated No. 4 VMI, 89-81, in the Semifinals of the 2011 Advance Auto Parts Men's Basketball Championship, Thursday, March 3 at Kimbel Arena on the campus of Coastal Carolina University.
The Chanticleers advance to the finals for the second consecutive season and will play No. 3 seed UNC Asheville Bulldogs in Conway on Saturday, March 5 at 4:00pm on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com for the Big South's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. It will be the second-straight year that the No. 1 seed and No. 3 seed will meet for the Championship.
The Chanticleers came out of the gates firing, hitting their first five shots of the night, four of the three-point variety to open up a 14-6 lead before missing their first shot of the contest at the 15:26 mark of the first half. An Anthony Raffa triple at the 14:06 mark extended the Chanticleer lead to double-digits at 16-6.
Following a Sam McLaurin free-throw, VMI's Austin Kenon singlehandedly cut the Chant advantage to 16-13 with a pair of treys at the 13:24 and 12:23 mark and give the senior his third three of the game.
After a Dexter Moore lay-up to bring the count to 18-13, a Stan Okoye three cut the Chanticleer advantage to 18-16 with 9:59 to play in the opening stanza of action. After VMI cut the lead down to two at 24-22, Coastal pieced together a 5-0 run to take a 29-22 advantage that was capped off by a Chad Gray bucket with 6:23 remaining.
Coastal was able to keep the lead at seven points heading into half with the 37-30 advantage as the two sides traded buckets the final six minutes heading into the intermission.
CCU shot 48.3 percent (14-of-29) and 41.7 percent (5-of-12) to lead both categories while outrebounding the Keydets 23-16. The Chants were paced by Gray's 11 points and Raffa's 10, while Kenon and Okoye had nine at the half for VMI, who shot 37.5 %(12-of-32) from the field and 5-of-15 (33.3 %) from three-point land.
VMI began the second half on a tear, slashing the lead to 37-33 only eight seconds into the second stanza, as Kenon nailed his fourth three of the contest. An Okoye bucket in the paint followed by a pair of defensive stops as well as a Rodney Glasgow lay-in tied the contest at 37-37 for the first time since early in the contest.
After the squads exchanged triples to knot the score a 40-40, Coastal's Brandon Crawford sank a pair of chances from the charity stripe as the Chants momentarily regained the 42-40 lead. On the next trip down the court, Okoye converted a pair of free-throws to knot the game at 42-42, and was followed by a pair of Kenon free-throws on the ensuing Keydet possession to give VMI a 44-42 advantage -- its first lead since the opening moments of the contest.
The Keydets earned a four point edge, its largest of the contest, as Kenon drained his fifth three of the game to stretch the advantage to 52-48. The contest also featured a bit of Big South history, as a Kenon free-throw with 12 minutes remaining moved him into the top-10 in career scoring in the Big South record books with 1,758 points.
A turning point of the contest came at the 9:34 mark, as Big South Freshman of the Year D.J. Covington collected his fifth personal foul after a scoreless night, resulting in the Chants regaining a three point, 59-56 on the possession. From that point on, the Chants outscored the Keydets 30-25 en route to the victory, with Gray scoring 10 points in the paint.
Coastal opened up an eight point advantage, its largest since the start of the second half at 68-60 with 7:09 to play on a Danny Nieman lay-up, and was followed by a Gray dunk with 5:52 brought the Chanticleer lead back to double digits at 72-62.
With the score 75-68 with 3:16 left, Kenon hit a pair of free-throws to bring the contest within five points at 75-70, before Coastal answered back, stretching their lead to 80-72 with 1:28 left. A quick 5-1 VMI burst brought the contest to a four-point margin on an Okoye dunk with 1:02 left to make 80-76, but the Chants pulled away with the contest, keyed by six points by Raffa to aid the 89-81 Coastal victory.
The Chants shot a robust 17-of-26 from the field in the second half (64.5%) and finish up with a 56.4% clip on the contest to go along with 44.4% from three. Gray and Raffa each scored 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while Moore added 17 points.
The Keydets were led by Kenon, who was 6-of-10 from 3-point land and finished his stellar career with 27 points. Okoye scored 22 points and grabbed five rebounds, while Gabriel added 17 points off the bench. VMI shot 48.6% in the second half to finish up shooting 43.3 percent on the contest. The Keydets relied on the three heavily, shooting 32 in the contest, and hit 11 to end at a 34.4 percent clip.
Coastal Carolina advances to the Big South Final for the second-straight year, as the Chants were defeated by No. 3 Winthrop in 2010. The Chants improve to 14-20 all time in tournament action, and are seeking their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1993.
VMI ends its season with an 18-13 record which matches the second-most wins in a season since 1996. The Keydets closed out the season winning six of their last eight contests. Kenon ends his career with 1,767 points, which is fifth in VMI history and 10th in Big South history.
Coastal Carolina Head Coach Cliff Ellis
"The fans watching this game saw a really good basketball game. It was a shoot out, both teams played hard and fought. It was typical Conference tournament basketball. We were very fortunate to pull it out, but it was because we had great effort. I can't say enough about this team, the great eight. They have been written off by a lot of people and they are in the finals. We had balanced effort. They knocked out shots, we knocked out shots, it was a beautiful game."
VMI Head Coach Duggar Baucom
"Congratulations to Coastal, they played very well. I couldn't be more proud of my guys. They fought and played through a lot of adversity. Coastal tore us up in the post. Chad Gray went 25 and 9. Our freshman of the year played fourteen minutes and it's hard to defend without him in there. I couldn't be more proud of our guys, they never quit they made a good run at the end of the game, and I couldn't be more proud of the two guys sitting here with me (Austin Kenon and Keith Gabriel)."