CONWAY, S.C. (AP) - Warren Gillis had 22 points and Josh Cameron added 19 to lift Coastal Carolina to the Big South Conference tournament title and its first NCAA trip in 21 years with a 76-61 victory over Winthrop on Sunday.
It was the first conference tournament title for Chanticleers coach Cliff Ellis in 39 years of coaching at four schools. He joins nine others who have led four schools to the NCAA tournament, trailing the mark of five set last season by Oklahoma's Lon Kruger.
Coastal Carolina (21-12) took control with 12-0 first-half run, eventually building the lead to 57-39 midway through the second half.
Winthrop (20-13) cut the lead to 61-52 on Keon Johnson's free throw with 4:36 left, but got no closer. Keon Moore led Winthrop with 19 points before fouling out.
Fans rushed the court at the HTC Center on Coastal's campus when it was over, cheering their team's first league title since 1993.
When Gillis went high for an uncontested dunk with 2:41 left, the party kicked up another notch with fans waving teal pompons and chanting "C-C-U."
Ellis has made eight previous NCAA appearances, the last in 2003 when Auburn reached the round of 16.
Coastal's last Big South tournament crown was in 1993, a title later vacated because of NCAA violations. The Chants lost a first-round game to Michigan that year. The Wolverines, national runners-up that year, also had their entire season vacated for rules violations.
Coastal fought its way to the finals with a double-overtime win against Charleston Southern on Friday and a 66-62 victory over high-scoring VMI in the semifinals.
Winthrop needed plenty of dramatics to reach its first tournament final in four years. It knocked off defending tournament champion Liberty on Wednesday, then got a 35-foot 3-pointer from Andre Smith to defeat regular-season champ High Point in the quarterfinals. On Saturday, Keon Johnson scored the final five points for the Eagles to eliminate No. 2 seed UNC Asheville, 80-79.
They kept things going early as Smith's 3-pointer and Joab Jerome's free throws gave the Eagles an 18-16 lead with 10:18 left. That's when Coastal Carolina started a 12-0 run, led by Cameron. The junior broke an 18-all tie with a 3-pointer and made a driving layup to increase the lead to 25-18. He closed the run with another basket that put Coastal ahead 28-18.
Gillis scored the Chants' final four points of the half to give them a 34-24 lead.
Coastal Carolina built its lead without top scorer Elijah Wilson, limited to 7 minutes and one missed shot because of two early fouls. He finished with 12 points, all in the second half.
Badou Diagne had 17 points for the Chants.
Ellis had previously reached the NCAA tournament twice with South Alabama, and three times each with Clemson and Auburn.
Coastal Carolina played for the Big South tournament title at home in 2010 and 2011 at its old gym as the league's top seed, but lost both times, first to Winthrop and a year later to UNC Asheville.
Kelsey is in his second season at Winthrop and has a strong legacy of NCAA success to live up to. Gregg Marshall, now the coach of No. 2 Wichita State, led the Eagles to seven NCAA tournaments while his successor Randy Peele advanced to NCAAs twice in five seasons.
The HTC Center will host this tournament again next year, the last of a three-season deal. Big South commission Kyle Kallander says the league will sit down this spring to evaluate the past two events and decide its next step. But he praised Coastal Carolina's arena and personnel for their efforts.
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