UNC-Asheville beats top-seeded Coastal Carolina to win Big South tournament

CONWAY, S.C. -- North Carolina-Asheville's Matt Dickey buried a game-winning 3-pointer that rocked Coastal Carolina's season 11 days ago.

On Saturday, he buried a 3 in the same basket to break the Chanticleers' hearts.

Dickey's shot from behind the arc with 1:39 left put the Bulldogs up seven and sent UNC-Asheville to a 60-47 victory over top-seeded Coastal Carolina in the Big South Conference title game.

Chris Stephenson scored 14 points for the third-seeded Bulldogs (19-13), who became the first team to clinch a spot in the NCAA tournament. John Williams had 10 points and nine rebounds.

Dickey's 3 back on Feb. 22 off a steal with less than three seconds left became a national highlight in a 61-58 win over Coastal Carolina, which beat Asheville by 21 earlier this season and once had the nation's longest winning streak at 22 games.

"That was an incredible feeling. The coaches kept telling us, you win the championship, it will be a million times better. They hit the nail on the head," Dickey said with the snipped net hanging around his neck.

Dickey's lone 3-pointer in six attempts Saturday helped Asheville reach the NCAAs for the second time. Its only other appearance was in 2003.

For the second year in a row, Coastal Carolina (28-5) was the tournament's top seed and lost the title game to the No. 3 seed. The Chanticleers will get an automatic bid to the NIT.

The Bulldogs never trailed, but after taking an 11-point lead halfway through the first half, couldn't put the Chanticleers away.

Coastal Carolina slowly climbed back, and Anthony Raffa's 3-pointer with 11:27 left trimmed UNC-Asheville's lead to 39-37. Anthony Crawford's block gave Coastal Carolina a chance to tie or take the lead.

But on the next possession, Danny Nieman turned the ball over and Stephenson scored to make it 41-37. That same scenario -- Coastal Carolina turns over the ball with a chance to tie and UNC-Asheville extends the lead again -- would play out four more times before Dickey's backbreaking 3-pointer.

Coastal Carolina finished with 21 turnovers, compared to 10 for the Bulldogs.

Jaron Lane delighted the Bulldogs bench with a jam with 9.2 seconds left, and coach Eddie Biedenbach cracked a small smile. His grin was much brighter about 20 minutes later as he cut down the final piece of the net, signifying just his second NCAA tournament in 18 years of coaching.

"I can't tell you how happy I am for this championship," he said. "I mean it from the bottom of my heart." Biedenbach said.

Chad Gray led the Chanticleers with 13 points, and Sam McLaurin had 12 points and 11 rebounds.

The pressure once again appeared to be too much for Coastal Carolina, which got to host the title game because it went 16-2 in the Big South. It lost last year's title game to No. 3 seed Winthrop.

It was a devastating end to a promising season. The Chanticleers once had the nation's longest winning streak at 22 games and were on the cusp of the Top 25. But they lost three of their last six games.

Coastal Carolina coach Cliff Ellis nicknamed this team "The Great Eight" because they played their final five games with just seven scholarship players an a walk-on after leading scorer Desmond Holloway was suspended for an eligibility issue and starting point guard Kierre Greenwood suffered a season-ending knee injury.

"I can't be any more proud of a team about what they did with eight guys down the stretch. They've got a lot of character," Ellis said. "And they almost pulled it off."

McLaurin warned the rest of the Big South that the Chanticleers have every intention of dominating the league again, but next time the ending will be sweeter.

"I'll tell you one thing, we're going to be back next year," McLaurin said "We're not going to have eight guys. We're going to have a full roster, God willing."

Hanging over the title game was a New York Times article reporting the NCAA was investigating Coastal Carolina for possible illegal benefits that former player Marcus Macellari told the newspaper were given to Holloway and other players. The school acknowledged reporting violations in 2010 to the NCAA, but didn't give specifics.

In that same article, Biedenbach suggested Ellis played with fire and got burned, upping the tension for Saturday's game even more.

Biedenbach said after the win he didn't realize the reporter was going to quote him. He said he apologized to Ellis and the league's commissioner.

With eight days before NCAA tournament pairings are announced, Biedenbach wants his players to celebrate and enjoy the title for a while. His team won the opening-round game in 2003 and the coach said he doesn't mind opening the tournament again. The Bulldogs are on a six-game winning streak and he thinks they can play with anyone.

"This championship here will last for a long, long time in Asheville and with these guys and with each other," Biedenbach said. "But we're not done."