When this week began, the Coastal Carolina men’s basketball team looked to be in comfortable control of a division championship and first-round bye in the Big South tournament.

Thanks to a stretch of seven wins in the span of eight games, the Chanticleers had a two-game lead atop the conference’s South Division as of Wednesday morning with only four contests remaining. They were playing some of their best basketball of the season and riding a wave of confidence and momentum that just seemed to keep growing and growing.

A few days later, that’s no longer the case.

Plagued by foul trouble in a game overrun by hair-trigger officiating, Coastal took its second straight loss Saturday as UNC Asheville finished off a 100-85 win before a crowd of 1,789 inside Kimmel Arena.

With that, the Chants (16-12, 9-5 Big South) and Bulldogs (15-13, 9-5) are now tied for first place in the division and will eventually be part of a three-way logjam with the winner of the game Saturday night between Gardner-Webb and Winthrop. The top two teams in each division earn first-round byes in the Big South tournament, so one of those three will miss out on that advantage.

“Our nose has been bloodied this week,” Coastal coach Cliff Ellis said. “It’s been bloodied this week, and we’ve got next week. We’re in a fight. It started four games ago when we got down to a six-game race. We knew this week was going to be tough. Exactly what I told them, our nose has been bloodied. We’ve got two games, we’ve got to come out and fight.”

The setback Saturday marks the Chants’ first consecutive losses during the conference season and the first time in Ellis’ seven seasons at Coastal that any opponent other than VMI has scored 100 points. The Keydets did it twice against the Chants, the last time coming in 2009.

Freshman Elijah Wilson scored a career-high 28 points in the loss while going 14-of-19 from the foul line, and junior guard Warren Gillis added 22 points. Senior Jaron Lane had 25 to pace UNC Asheville.

As for the story of the game, both head coaches spoke diplomatically about the officiating, which produced 60 combined fouls and 95 total free throw attempts while bogging down the pace of the play.

Junior point guard Josh Cameron, who got into early foul trouble for the second straight game, ended up fouling out with 10:35. Gillis picked up his fifth foul as well with just less than 7:00 on the clock, leaving the Chants without two of their top three scorers and primary ball handlers.

“I think it was called both ways,” Ellis said. “I know foul trouble has been something that has hurt us the last two games, but I think it’s consistent on both sides of the ball. My thing is I can’t worry about that aspect of it. If it’s called that way, we’ve got to adjust. I thought it was called both ways.”

Meanwhile, UNC Asheville freshman Andrew Rowsey – the team’s leading scorer – was among the Bulldogs’ players to get into foul trouble, picking up his fourth with 12:24 remaining while being limited to 11 minutes in the second half.

“The game was obviously very choppy because of the number of fouls in the game, but I didn’t think either team did a great job of kind of adjusting to the whistle,” Bulldogs coach Nick McDevitt said. “There were a lot of calls in the first half, and both teams continued to stay really aggressive. [It was] hard to get into a rhythm offensively, but it was that way for both teams.”

And Rowsey still managed to make a pronounced impact on the game.

UNC Asheville led 54-48 early in the second half when the high-scoring freshman got hot and gave the hosts some separation on the scoreboard. After being held to three points on 1-of-9 shooting in the first half, Rowsey managed to pour in 10 points in a little more than a minute and a half.