“And let the party begin!”
Those were the words said by ESPN’s Roy Philpott as the clock hit zero and CCU players and fans in the HTC Center stormed the court to celebrate the team’s first Big South Championship since 1993.
Prior to the Chanticleers’ championship win in 2014, Coastal had only been in three Big South Championship games since the 1993 Big South Tournament. Coastal fans remember when Winthrop beat the Chants with less than 10 seconds to go in the 2006 Big South Championship or the back-to-back championship losses in 2010 and 2011 at the old Kimmel Arena.
And who could forget the horrors of watching Liberty win the 2013 Big South Tournament at the HTC Center in 2013.
That 2014 team put away years of grief and brought a championship to CCU and a smile to Chanticleer fans everywhere.
Former CCU player Warren Gillis, the MVP of the 2014 Big South Tournament, looked back on that moment five years later.
“What I remember most is how far that team came from the beginning of the year,” said Gillis. “We had a lot of new guys and got off to such a slow start. But by the middle of the year we knew that we could do something special.”
The Chanticleers entered conference play that season at 7-7. After a one-point loss in overtime to Winthrop at the HTC Center, the Chanticleers would go 7-1 before dropping back to back games. CCU would win the final two games of the season before heading into the conference tournament.
The Chanticleers avoided disaster in back-to-back years and pushed past 843 rivals Charleston Southern in double overtime before squeaking past VMI to face off with, you guessed it, Winthrop.
The Chanticleers had gone 1-4 against Winthrop in their last five matchups prior to the 2014 Big South title game, including losing both matchups earlier in the season.
Coastal put over 20 years of bad memories to bed with an emphatic 15-point win over Winthrop, winning the Big South title and making their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since Tony Dunkin led the Chanticleers to the 1993 NCAA Tournament.
Colton Ray-St. Cyr, a freshman on that 2013-2014 team, reminisced about the moment he realized that he and his teammates were going dancing.
“The first time we went to the NCAA Tournament has to one of the top two moments of my life,” said Ray-St. Cyr. “There were a lot of guys that have come in and out of this program that did not get the chance to do that. That moment was just something that I would never forget.”
The Coastal Carolina men’s basketball teams of 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 went 56-15 during those two seasons, including a 31-5 record in regular season conference play. Both teams fell in the championship game and were selected to go to the NIT instead of the NCAA Tournament.
Head Coach Cliff Ellis talked about the relief he felt when that final buzzer sounded.
“It was a feeling of accomplishment for these guys who worked so hard to turn things around,” said Ellis. “Prior to my being here in 2008, there were 14 years since 1993 where Coastal did not have a winning record. My first few years we struggled a bit and them we brought in some incredible recruiting classes. So when we finally got back to the NCAA Tournament, it was a tribute to those players that had worked so long to overcome the drought.”
Coastal Carolina was granted a 16-seed and faced Virginia. The Chanticleers, much like future 16-seeds, would give the Cavaliers a scare and hold a five-point lead over Virginia at the half.
Ray-St. Cyr remembered that game.
“We honestly thought we were going to win that game,” said Ray-St. Cyr. “Throughout the game, I was picturing from time to time on how I was going to be dancing in the front camera. Unfortunately, it did not play out the way we wanted it to.”
Coastal Carolina would fall to Virginia 59-70.
Despite the defeat, the Chanticleers found themselves back in the NCAA Tournament the following year, winning back-to-back conference tournament championships for the first time in program history. And while the team fell to eventual runner-up Wisconsin, Ray-St. Cyr says that the experience in those games will stay with him forever.
“I regret not enjoying it as much as I should have,” said Ray-St. Cyr. “I was a freshman on that team and I really didn’t take the time to understand the significance of what we did. Now, I am grateful to have that experience. Everybody that was on that team knows what we did, we have a banner to show for it and that is all that you could ask for when it comes to a college career.”
Ray-St. Cyr is currently playing ball overseas while Gillis is now an assistant on the current men’s basketball team. After seeing his former team play in postseason tournaments such as the CBI and CIT, Gillis is hoping his experience can help guide the Chanticleers back to the NCAA Tournament.
“This is a new challenge but it is fun,” said Gillis. “It’s exciting to be back here and trying to help the program get back to the tournament.”