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Coastal Carolina, Mercer end long tournament droughts

Warren GillisWarren Gillis scored 22 points, helping Coastal Carolina punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament. (Willis Glassgow/AP)

Wichita State wasn't the only team to stamp its ticket to the NCAA tournament on Sunday, nor was it the first team to accomplish something for the first time in 20-plus years. Coastal Carolina and Mercer may not have the same ceiling in the tournament as the Shockers, but they, too, will be there after winning their respective conference tournaments.

Behind 22 points from junior Warren Gillis, Coastal Carolina took down Winthrop, 76-61, to win the Big South tournament and advance to the NCAA tourney for the first time since 1993. Junior Josh Graham had 19 points and sophomore Badou Digane chipped in 17. Gillis was named the tournament MVP.

Winthrop knocked off top-seeded High Point in the quarterfinals, opening the door for a surprise champion. Coastal was in control most of the game, ending the first half on a 16-6 run to open up a 10-point lead at halftime. The Eagles never got it closer than seven the rest of the way.

The Chanticleers will likely end up as a No. 16 seed, so their stay in the tournament could be rather brief. However, it might not take them another 21 years to make a return trip to the dance. Just one of their starters, center El Hadji Ndieguene, is a senior.

While Coastal Carolina may not be around in the tourney for long, not all small conference champions are created equally. Mercer was atop the Atlantic Sun conference all season long, and capped it off by beating last year's tournament darling Florida Gulf Coast in the A-Sun championship on Sunday.

Four Bears scored in double-figures, led by guards Langston Hall and Anthony White Jr., who each had 15. Daniel Coursey had 13 points and seven rebounds, and Jakob Gallon poured in 12 of his own.

When you're filling out your bracket next week and looking for this year's version of Florida Gulf Coast, make sure to give the Bears some consideration. The No. 101 team on KenPom, Mercer knocked off power conference teams Ole Miss and Seton Hall. They trounced a Yale team that took down Harvard once this year, and lost by just three points at Texas. They don't have a catchy moniker like Dunk City, but they could be just as dangerous as the Eagles were last year.

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