CONWAY, S.C. — Coastal Carolina might have been taking on a team from the Atlantic Coast Conference on Wednesday night, but Anthony Raffa wanted to approach it like any other home game.
He scored 25 points as the Chanticleers beat Clemson 69-46 Wednesday night, stunning the Tigers for a second straight year. Coastal Carolina (4-5) came in with just one win this season over a Division I team. But the Chanticleers showed no fear against the Tigers (6-4), leading for the final 27 minutes of the game.
Raffa soaked it in, and tried to sound a little humble after the game.
"We're in our home gym, and we took care of business," Raffa said.
Raffa might have made it sound like just another win, but it wasn't for the Chanticleers. It was just their third victory win in 31 games against Atlantic Coast Conference teams. Coastal Carolina held Clemson to its lowest scoring total and worst loss (23-point margin) in coach Brad Brownell's three seasons.
"I didn't see this coming," Brownell said.
Coastal Carolina coach Cliff Ellis called it the biggest win Coastal Carolina has ever had in the regular season, surpassing last year's 60-59 win over the Tigers on a tip-in at the buzzer. It was a sweet victory for a team that has two regular-season Big South Conference titles in the past three years but lost in the tournament title game on its home floor each time.
"It's just a huge moment. I am elated," Ellis said. "Kierre Greenwood will go out of here and Anthony Raffa will go out of here with two wins against Clemson. That's sweet."
The Chanticleers played a zone and dared Clemson to beat them with outside shots. It worked. The Tigers shot 32.1 percent (17 of 53), and that was with Devin Booker scoring 16 points and making seven of his 11 shots. Clemson made just four of its 21 3-point attempts.
"As the game wears on, Coastal just keeps backing in and backing in," Brownell said. "There's no driving lanes. It's very hard to get it into Devin, and when you do get it into Devin, he's got three people around him. You've got to make some perimeter shots, and we didn't make any."
Raffa, who came into the game as the Big South Conference's leading scorer at 20.4 points a game, didn't hesitate to take it right to the Tigers. He had two fearless drives right at Booker as the Chanticleers finished the first half on a 13-2 run to lead 27-19 at the break.
Raffa didn't stop during the decisive second-half run. He airballed a 3 from the left corner, but didn't stop, running to the right corner, calling for the ball and burying the shot from behind the arc to put Coastal Carolina up 58-42 with just under five minutes to go.
By the time Raffa hit his fifth driving layup of the game, drawing a foul and hitting the free throw to put the Chanticleers up 67-42, the sellout crowd of 3,286 at Coastal Carolina's new HTC Center was roaring. And Ellis, who came to Coastal Carolina to wrap up a career of nearly four decades that includes being the winningest coach in Clemson history, was beaming.
"He's an Energizer Bunny," Ellis said of his senior guard. "That's the way he plays. He's a New Jersey kid who just comes at you. Most of the time it's good, but sometimes it doesn't work out."
It worked out perfectly on Wednesday. When Clemson was able to stop Raffa, other players stepped up. Warren Gills scored 12 points, Kierre Greenwood had 10 points and Uros Ljeskovic added four points and 10 rebounds for Coastal Carolina, whose other wins this season have been against Akron, Johnson & Wales and Toccoa Falls.
The 46 points was the Tigers' lowest output since losing to Miami 62-38 in January 2006.
Jordan Roped scored 12 points for the Tigers. Milton Jennings scored just five points on 2-of-12 shooting.
Clemson appeared like it might get back into the game on a monster jam by Booker that cut Coastal Carolina's lead to 41-36 with 11:55 to go in the game. But a Greenwood 3-pointer started a 25-6 run, erasing any confidence a young Clemson team might have had.
"The pressure on our team is a hundred times more than on Coastal in tonight's game," Brownell said. "That's why most people don't play these games when you're at our level. You don't come here to do this because there isn't a lot to gain."