Conway, S.C. – Forward Jimmy Nichols made a lefty hook shot from close range with 13 seconds left and junior guard Jon Sanders added a free throw in the final seconds as Coastal scored the last four points to take 88-86 win over Piedmont University in a season-opening game for each team Monday night at the HTC Center.
Coastal had made a 10-2 run to take an 85-80 lead with three minutes remaining, but then missed five consecutive free throw attempts to allow the Lions to claw back into the lead at 86-85 on a foul shot by guard Ryan Jolly, who had a game-high 27 points.
Kevin Easley, a senior forward who transferred from Duquesne, led Coastal with 20 points. He was one of four players in double figures for CCU. The others were all guards. Jacob Meyer contributed 16 points, while Kylan Blackmon had 13 and Sanders had 12. John Ojiako, a 6-10 big man who played at George Mason last season, had nine points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
“We dodged a bullet tonight,” sighed Coastal head coach Cliff Ellis, as he began his 17th season with a more closely contested win than he would have liked. “Everybody was expecting a 20-point win but give credit to Piedmont for spreading us out and shooting the ball well. We’ll learn from this. We have so many new faces. But I thought Kevin Easley’s inside play was big for us.”
Easley made half of his 12 field goal attempts and hit on 8-of-11 free throws and grabbed nine rebounds, helping the taller Chants to a sizable 53-37 rebounding edge. Nichols finished with nine points and six rebounds.
Jolly got scoring help from his backcourt mate Noah Reardon, who chipped in with 25 points, including 5-of-9 from three-point range. As a team, Piedmont hit 11-of-25 threes, while Coastal made just 9-of-30. Coastal also hurt its cause by shooting just 53 percent (19-of-36) from the free throw line and committing 16 turnovers.
Piedmont surprisingly broke on top and led 19-11 before Coastal mounted a 12-2 run to take a momentary 23-21 lead on a three-pointer by Blackmon mid-way through the first half. The Chants fell behind again, but this time rallied with a 14-0 run, punctuated by a three-pointer from forward Ian Granja, giving CCU a 44-38 lead, its largest of the period.
The last run of the stanza belonged to the Lions, as they went on a 7-0 run that helped them to a narrow 47-46 lead at the break. Fittingly, there were four ties and six lead-changes in the period. Piedmont guards Noah Reardon and Jolly combined for 25 of their team’s points, hitting a combined 12-of-21 from the field. Reardon got most of his points from long range, going 5-of-7 from beyond the arc. Blackmon hit for nine points to lead a balanced Coastal attack.
Coastal started the second half on a 12-2 run, with Easley and Ojiako each scoring four points. That scoring spree put CCU in front, 58-50, but it was anything but easy the rest of the way. Neither team led by more than nine points, and there were eight ties and 13 lead changes.
Coastal has 10 days off before resuming its season with an opening round game in the Myrtle Beach Invitational. The Chants will face Wichita State at 4:30 p.m. (ET) on Thursday, Nov. 16. Coastal will also play tournament games on Nov. 17 and No. 19.
Courtesy – CCU Athletics