Tournament upset helps Big South settle feud

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CONWAY, S.C. (AP)—Everyone likes a good family fight, except when it’s your family.

So the Big South Conference champion and runner-up say it’s time to put aside interleague squabbles of the past few weeks and concentrate on the upcoming NCAA tournament.

The discord was sparked by a few comments from league coaches in a New York Times article last month that said the NCAA was investigating Coastal Carolina for possible illegal benefits that former player Marcus Macellari told the newspaper were given to several players.

After beating coach Cliff Ellis and the Chanticleers 60-47 in the Big South tournament final Saturday, North Carolina-Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach said he apologized to Ellis for suggesting in the article he had shady recruiting practices.

“All the old cliches, what goes around comes around, you play with fire you get burned—all those kinds of things,” Biedenbach said in the article.

Biedenbach said Saturday he didn’t realize he was going to be quoted when he said that to the reporter.

“Cliff’s done a lot of great things over a lot of years. That’s none of my business,” Biedenbach said.

Ellis released a statement a few days after the article was published saying there were lies in the story, although he wasn’t specific. He said he was talking about his options with a lawyer.

He has refused to talk about it since.

Instead, Ellis has only indirectly addressed losing players to grades, eligibility issues and injuries, nicknaming the remaining seven scholarship players and one walk-on “The Great Eight.”

“It really has been a truly remarkable season when you look at 28 wins with what this group has gone through,” Ellis said after Saturday’s loss. “It would have been climaxed with just an unbelievable story to pull it out, but it didn’t happen.”

The Chanticleers finished 16-2 in the Big South this season, three games ahead of Liberty and five clear of third-place UNC-Asheville.

But just one Coastal Carolina player made the first or second all-Big South team, voted on by coaches and the media (leading scorer Desmond Holloway was left off the ballot after he was suspended because of eligibility issues with three games left in the season). Ellis didn’t even finish in the top three in the coach of the year balloting.

The Big South Conference has been dominated by a couple of teams over the past decades. Winthrop won nine league titles in 12 years. Coastal Carolina has finished on top of the league the past two seasons, with Ellis using junior college players and transfers in some key roles while bringing the Chanticleers to the top.

“If you’ve got somebody that’s got a successful program, there’s going to be an automatic rivalry there, an automatic desire to pull the king off the throne,” Big South Commissioner Kyle Kallander said.

Kallander said he spoke to his coaches about getting along after The New York Times article came out.

“Going into tournament week, we said it’s time to really focus on basketball,” Kallander said. “It’s time to focus on the great performances of our student-athletes and our teams.”

And it worked. Nearly every coach praised Ellis and Coastal Carolina for winning the league’s regular-season title as they began their remarks last week on the Big South’s media conference call before the tournament started.

Biedenbach also apologized to the commissioner Saturday for a second time.

“I did say some things. But it’s not my place,” Biedenbach said.

Coastal Carolina has said it reported several violations to the NCAA in 2010, but has not specified what they were about. What punishment, if any, the team will face has not been announced.

Kallander said he can’t talk about what might happen to Coastal Carolina next. He said NCAA violations are rare in his league and he thinks the school handled things appropriately.

“Coastal Carolina is being very forthright and doing ever they can—by the book—and being very aggressive with it and doing the right thing,” Kallander said.

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