- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 26, 2011

CONWAY, S.C. (AP) - Coastal Carolina coach Cliff Ellis has a hard and fast rule for road trips back to campus: Win and the players watch a movie, lose and they slog through game film.

“We’ve haven’t watched much game film lately,” Ellis, the former Clemson and Auburn coach, said with a smile.

The Chanticleers (18-2) have the country’s third-longest winning streak at 16 games, trailing only Ohio State (21-0) and San Diego State (20-0). They haven’t lost since an 80-61 defeat to Georgetown on Nov. 18 in the Charleston Classic. They beat their first BCS opponent in 17 years with an overtime victory at LSU last month.

And as the victories pile up, Coastal players can’t resist checking ESPN each night to see if they’ve moved up further.

“Yeah, it’s a topic in the locker room,” said senior forward Chad Gray, a South Carolina transfer who’s second on the team with 13.1 points a game and the leading rebounder at 6.3 a game.

Moreso than winning streaks, Gray says, is finishing what they couldn’t a season ago.

The Chants won a school record 28 games and, with the Big South tournament title game at their Kimbel Arena, appeared a lock for their first NCAA tournament trip since 1993.

But Winthrop, the conference’s powerhouse program the past decade, stunned Coastal Carolina 64-53 in the championship game.

It was a harsh blow to Coastal and Ellis, on the verge of taking his fourth program to the NCAA tournament.

“We didn’t owe an apology to anybody,” Ellis said. “It’s a part of the system as to what’s fair and what isn’t.”

So Ellis sought to toughen up his team for “three days in March,” he says.

A big part of that was the addition of another South Carolina transfer in 6-foot-8, 240-pound Mike Holmes. But Holmes played in just seven games before he was permanently dismissed by Ellis for violating team rules without the chance to return.

Ellis says Holmes was involved in an “altercation,” but would not provide any details.

Holmes was averaging 14 points and eight rebounds and looked like the difference maker that elevates mid-major programs once on basketball’s biggest stage.

“Mike was a big part of the team,” Gray said. “But we’ve had to go on.”

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