Georgia Southern (CBI, 1st round)
Georgia State (CIT, 1st round)
Troy (NCAA, 1st round)
Texas State (CIT, Quarter Finals)
Next, Texas State met Sun Belt football buddy Idaho (18-13, 4th in the Big Sky). The Vandals got solid production from 6’5″ junior guard Victor Sanders (17 points, 4 rebounds), but the Bobcats combo of Pearson (16 pts) and Kavin Gildar-Tilbury (14 pts) was too much for Idaho to overcome. The Vandals pulled within one with 13:30 left to play, but then it was all Texas State for the remainder of the contest, earning the 64-55 W.
The Bobcats won 20+ games with their stifling defense, but they hadn’t seen anything like St. Peters (19-13, 2nd in the MAAC) in the CIT quarter finals. The Peacock’s 6’8 senior center Quadir Welton delivered 4 blocks and 12 rebounds, led a defense that limited Gildar-Tilbury to 6 points and Pearson to only 9. The Bobcats fell by the ridiculous score of 49-44, an odd ending to a glorious season.
UT Arlington (NIT, Elite 8)
Next on the menu, 7-seed Akron (26-8, 1st in the MAC) who is the Mid-American version of UT Arlington having been upset by Kent (!) in the conference tournament. The Mavericks weren’t sympathetic, unzipping the Zips 85-69 (noice) behind 18 points from Kaelon Wilson and nine boards from Jorge Bilbao.
Eight-seeded CSU Bakersfield (22-9, 1st in the WAC) proved to be the Mavericks’ undoing (in addition to 1-seed California and 4-seed Colorado St). Despite getting 22 points from guard Eric Neal, UTA fell 80-76 to the Roadrunners thanks to Dedrick Basile’s game-clinching free throws with five seconds left. (The Roadrunners would fall to Georgia Tech in the NIT Final Four.) In all, not bad Sun Belt representation from UTA, who should have gained more respect from the NCAA.
Coastal Carolina (CBI, Finals )
The magic began with a 83-67 victory over the Hampton Pirates, who were just happy to be playing after compiling a 14-16 record and placing 4th in the MEAC. The Pirates kept the game close, actually taking a 55-54 lead with 10:36 left to play. But the Chanticleer’s got just enough production from 6’1″ junior guard Jaylen Shaw (17 points, 6 boards, 4 assists) to send Hampton back to Virginia.
The Chants next hosted the Loyola (MD) Greyhounds (15-16, 6th in the Patriot), and thumped them 72-63. The Greyhounds entered halftime with a 31-29 advantage, led by 17 points from the awesomely monikered, 6’3″ freshman guard Chuck Champion. This cold-ass world needs more Chuck Champion, y’all. Coastal Carolina likes its ass cold, though, because once again Jaylen Shaw took over with 22 points on 10/19 shooting, and 6’8″ junior forward Demario Beck contributed 8 rebounds to propel the Chanticleers into the semi finals.
Coastal next took on the University of Illinois-Chicago Flames (15-18, 6th in the Horizon). This would be the Chanticleer’s third sub-.500 opponent in a row, all three hosted at Conway. The Flames weren’t easily snuffed, however, having gotten into the semi finals by besting Stony brook and George Washington. The Flames were no match for #SunBeltHeat, falling 89-78 behind Shaw’s 22 points and Beck’s 18 points and 10 rebounds. The Chanticleers were in the finals to play a best 2-of-3 against the Wyoming Cowboys.
Hampton, Loyola (MD) and UIC are all worthy opponents. Wyoming is a different hombre. The Cowboys ended the season 19-14 and finished 7th in the Mountain West. In the semi finals, Wyoming bested Utah Valley, who you remember bounced Georgia Southern in the first round. Cowboys could play. Except on the road, where Wyoming is 3-9. The Chanticleers hosted Wyoming to start the best of three series, and pounded the Cowboys for a very entertaining 91-81 win.
Beck, Shaw and 6’5″ senior forward Michel Enanga led Chanticleer scoring with 15 points apiece, overcoming a manly effort from the Cowboy’s 6’5″ senior guard Jason McManamen (19 points, 2 assists, 2 steals).
Things got real for the Chanticleers when Coastal Carolina took its game to the wilderness of Laramie. Coastal is just as horrible on the road as Wyoming, going 3-10 on the year. And it showed in Game 2 of the CBI Finals when the Cowboys trussed up the Chants 81-57 to force a Game 3. The Cowboy’s 6’7″ sophomore guard Justin James led all scorers with 21 points on 8/13 shooting. Beck and Shaw were corralled for only a combined 10 points.
Game 3 of the CBI Final was nearly a carbon copy of Game 2, with the Cowboys winning 83-59. Beck poured in 17 for the Chanticleers, but 0nce again Shaw was contained, held to only ten points. Coastal pulled within 2 points at 10:44 in the first half, but after that, it was Cowboys all the way. Wyoming’s Justin James delivered 17 points and 6’8″ junior forward Hayden Dalton snagged 10 rebounds.
Thought the Sun Belt was unable to place any post season trophy’s onto Karl Benson’s mantle, the conference acquitted itself well. A considerable number of star players from 2016-17 return to action in 2017-18. There’s no reason not to expect another leap in quality next season.