Seahawks Punch NCAA Ticket With Fifth CAA Title

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Let the dancing begin.

After a 10-year hiatus, the UNCW men’s basketball team will be playing in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament once again following a stirring 80-73 come-from-behind overtime victory over top-seeded Hofstra on Monday night in the 2016 Colonial Athletic Association Men’s Basketball championship game at Royal Farms Arena.

The Seahawks tied the school record for victories and stand 25-7 on the season following victories over College of Charleston, Northeastern and Hofstra in the four-day event near the Inner Harbor. The Pride had its eight-game winning streak snapped and stands 24-9.

Senior guard Craig Ponder anchored four players in double figures with 20 points for the Seahawks, who won their fifth CAA championship and will be making their eighth postseason appearance with the NCAA trip.

Junior guard Chris Flemmings contributed 19 points and was named Most Valuable Player after averaging 17.7 points over the three games.

Junior guard Denzel Ingram added 17 points and junior center C.J. Gettys scored 10. Ponder and Ingram joined Flemmings on the All-Tournament Team.

Senior forward Ameen Tanksley paced the Pride with 24 points, including a perfect 9-for-9 at the free throw line. Sophomore center Rokas Gustys added 18 points and a tournament-record 23 rebounds and senior guard Juan’ya Green, the CAA’s Player of the Year, added 13 points on just 2-of-16 shooting.

“I told everybody coming into the tournament that we were built for a tournament run,” said Kevin Keatts, two-time CAA Coach-of-the-Year. “We bent a little bit, but didn’t break. Every time they made a run and built a lead, it could have been easy for our guys to fold, but they didn’t. These guys just stuck in there and I’m so proud of all of them.”

The Seahawks and Pride, meeting for the fifth time in the CAA Tournament, battled nip-and-tuck for much of the night before Hofstra built a 12-point lead early in the second half and watched as the Seahawks battled back to tie the score and take home the hardware in overtime.

UNCW opened the second half with a bucket inside by Gettys, but the Pride reeled off seven straight points to get the lead back to 48-36 with just over 17 minutes remaining.

Hofstra’s lead bumped up to 52-40 on a monster dunk by Gustys at 15:21, but the Seahawks scored six in a row to climb within 52-46 with 13:45 left in the contest.

The Seahawks were still behind, 62-58, after a pair of free throws by Green, but reeled off seven straight points. After a Ponder trifecta at the six-minute mark, the Seahawks took their first lead since 10:57 of the first half when freshman guard C.J. Bryce converted both ends of a bonus situation. Flemmings then drove coast to coast for a layup to give UNCW a 65-62 edge with 4:22 remaining in the game.

With the score tied at 68-all in regulation, Ponder was called for an offensive foul with 5.2 seconds on the clock, but Green’s long attempt at the buzzer bounced high off the glass, sending the game into overtime. UNCW then dominated the overtime period, making all four of its field goal attempts, and outscored the Pride, 12-5, in the extra period. Keatts is now 6-0 in overtime since arriving in Wilmington two years ago.

Hofstra withstood an early Seahawk flurry by shooting 57.7 percent in the first half to build a 41-34 cushion at the break.

The Seahawks started quickly on the Pride, firing in seven of their first nine field goal attempts, to build an early margin. Ingram drained four of his first five shots and his jumper in the left corner gave UNCW a 16-9 advantage at 14:46.

Still trailing 18-11, the Pride responded with 14 unanswered points as Gustys scored on a pair of layups and reserve guard Desure Buie converted a conventional three-point play to get things going. A putback by Tanksley capped the run with 10:14 left as Hofstra took a 25-18 lead.

Flemmings snapped a long drought for the Seahawks, but the Pride reeled off five more points and a layup by Gustys helped the lead swell to 30-20 with 7:29 left in the first period.

The Pride then registered their largest lead of the first half with 5:35 left when senior guard Brian Bernardi scored on a layup to raise the margin to 34-23.

After Tanksley was fouled while shooting a three-pointer and drained all three ensuing free throws to make the score 41-32 with 1:43 on the clock, Flemmings dropped in a teardrop on the other end with 35 seconds remaining to close the gap to 41-34 at intermission.

Tanksley did most of the damage for the Pride in the opening half, scoring 17 points, and Gustys had eight points and 12 rebounds as Hofstra outscored UNCW by seven points in the first 20 minutes.

GAME NOTES: Hofstra shot 57.7 in the first half, but just 25.0 percent in the second period…The Seahawks only committed seven turnovers…Denzel Ingram was the only Seahawk to play all 45 minutes…Hofstra went 23-of-26 at the free throw line…UNCW’s largest lead was seven points…The Seahawks went 5-of-15 from long distance…The Seahawks had 15 offensive rebounds…Denzel Ingram dished out six assists…UNCW is 3-0 in overtime this season…Kevin Keatts is the third different head coach to win a CAA championship for the Seahawks...UNCW has won three of the last four matchups against Hofstra…The Seahawks are now 36-26 in CAA Tournament play…UNCW’s last championship in 2006 also came at the expense of the Pride in Richmond, VA.

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