By Ethan Marsh, Reporter
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - UNC Wilmington men’s basketball completed what it had not done since 2006 - win the CAA Tournament. By beating Hofstra 80-73 in overtime Monday night, the Seahawks clinch their first NCAA Tournament bid in ten years.
Just a Part of the Plan. 2nd year Head Coach, Kevin Keatts, had a plan of making this happen for the Seahawks as he stated earlier in the season that this team was trying to stay the course. This course was to do something that the program had not done in a decade and to bring back the act of winning. The team was predicted to be great before the season commenced as the 2014-15 club produced a 18-14 season, a complete turnaround from the 9-23 campaign in 2013-14. Keatts praised Senior Craig Ponder and Sophomore Jordan Talley at the Buffalo
Wild Wings Basketball Luncheon in October. This proved right as Ponder broke the most games appeared with his 126th game in the last home matchup of the season and Talley consistently proves his worthiness as a playmaker. Keatts brought on an even better campaign this season as the Seahawks are currently sitting at 25-7 entering the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006. The realization of this tremendous success came into fruition as Keatts cut down the nets after the overtime win against Hofstra occurred. This season of the ages has now made a permanent mark in the history books of the UNCW program as it made its 5th CAA Tournament championship and tied the most regular season wins ever at 22. The Seahawks will now celebrate this accomplishment as they await the placement in the NCAA tourney on Selection Sunday March 13th.
The Seahawks Come From Behind in Edging Charleston 66-64 in Quarterfinal
The road to the CAA Tourney win was not a walk in a park. It was hard work and dedication that the team exemplified to come together and overcome the obstacles to come out victorious. This started with the College of Charleston on Saturday. UNC Wilmington had played Charleston 14 days prior at TD Arena in Charleston and narrowly won 59-55 in Overtime. This time UNCW came back and won while in the prior matchup let the lead slip away and had to reclaim it in overtime. The Quarterfinal matchup first showcased the Seahawks starting off being down 40-27 at halftime. Then UNCW came out and outscored Charleston 39-24 to claim the final score at 66-64. The comeback began primarily due to a 3-pointer by Craig Ponder and 3 3-pointers by Chris Flemmings to bring the score within 2 to 43-41 only 3 minutes and 6 minutes into the second half. Denzel Ingram then rained a couple of 3-pointers to make it 49-43 a minute and 35 seconds later. Charleston managed to come back and regain the lead at 57-55 with 7 minutes left. UNCW regained the lead 21 seconds later and did not let the lead slip away again as Jordan Talley made a free throw with 5 seconds left to make the final score at 66-64. Marcus Bryan led all scorers with 16 while Flemmings followed with 13. UNCW then advanced to the Semifinal to play Northeastern
UNC Wilmington Escapes Close Brawl with Northeastern 73-70 in Semifinal to Advance
This semifinal matchup with Northeastern Sunday afternoon was just about as close as the day before against Charleston. The largest lead was by 4 up until 5 minutes and 54 seconds into the 2nd half. UNCW then raced out to a 58-44 lead behind a couple of 3 point baskets by Chris Flemmings transpiring over roughly the next 5 minutes of the matchup. It was still at 10-point lead with 2:05 left as Craig Ponder hit a 3 to make it 67-57. The closest it got was 70-69 1 minute and 51 seconds later as Northeastern went on a 13-2 run. The teams swapped free throws over the last 14 seconds as the Seahawks managed to hold onto the lead to win it 73-70 to advance to the CAA Championship on Monday. Flemmings accounted for 29 percent of the scoring at 21 points and making 4 3-pointers while Denzel Ingram followed with 14. Despite letting the lead slip away over the course of less than 2 minutes, the free throws over the last final seconds by Ingram and Flemmings maintained the small lead. This enabled for the Seahawks to continue the season for the ages to play in the CAA Championship Monday night versus Hofstra.
UNCW outlasts Hofstra 80-73 in Overtime to Win 5th CAA Championship
Meeting 11 days prior in a heartbreaking loss in the final seconds to Hofstra, UNC Wilmington looked to make it their own heartbreaker for Hofstra this time on NBCSN Monday night. The Seahawks did just that. It did not come easy though as Hofstra overcame an early UNCW 14-7 start to increase their lead to 11 at 34-23 with 5:43 left in the 1st half. Points were hard to come by for the Seahawks at that point and were fouling Hofstra at the same time led to it being difficult to try to come back into the game. UNCW managed to make it a 7-point game at halftime at 41-34. UNC Wilmington reversed this in the second half to outscore Hofstra 34-27 in the period to have a 68-68 tie to go into overtime. Hofstra managed a small lead throughout the 2nd half until Senior Craig Ponder lived up to Coach Keatts praise yet again as he nailed a bucket beyond the arc with 6:05 left to make it 62-61. The narrowing of the gap was also due to steady 2-point layups and in the pain that was hard to come by in the 1st. Then Ponder made another 3-pointer with 3:03 left to make it 68-64. Then Hofstra managed to tie it to go into Overtime. The Seahawks ultimately outlasted Northeastern in the OT period as Marcus Bryan made the first points to make it 70-68 until Denzel Ingram made a 3-point bucket to make it 79-73 with 0:34 left. The celebration began soon after as the CAA Championship concluded in UNC Wilmington’s favor at 80-73 to claim their first tournament crown in a decade. Craig Ponder scored 20 in the Championship. Chris Flemmings was chosen for MVP as he had a 17.7 point average over the span of the three games and overall contributed the most to the Seahawks ability to win.
NCAA Tourney Next Stop in the Season For the Ages
UNC Wilmington will next play in the NCAA Tournament that will began with Selection Sunday on March 13th that will determine where the Seahawks will place and what seeded team they will play. Time will tell if this season for the ages gets even better from this point. It has been a season for the ages that will never be forgotten. CAA Champions 2016.