During the regular season, the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks and the Hofstra Pride split the season series at one game apiece, with the two games being decided by a combined 4 points.
To make things a little more intriguing, both teams won inside the other team’s building.
The Seahawks and the Pride finished with identical 14-4 records in the regular season, three games clear of a trio of teams at 11-7. In the conference tournament, the ideal finale was to see UNC-Wilmington and Hofstra do battle one last time.
Basketball fans everywhere rejoiced when both teams advanced to the finals, and they were treated to a great championship battle.
As the case has been several times this post-season, the game needed an extra five minutes to decide a winner. In the overtime frame, the Seahawks pulled away to come away with the conference title.
UNC-Wilmington took down the Hofstra Pride in overtime, 80-73, to win their first CAA title in 10 seasons, and will represent the conference in the NCAA Tournament.
Early on in the first half, the Seahawks were looking to take control of the game and take the momentum from the Pride before they could get settled. UNC-Wilmington took a 7-point lead on several different occasions, with the last coming at the 13:47 mark on a layup from Jordan Talley.
With the score 18-11, and in danger of getting away from Hofstra, the Pride found their groove on offense and stormed right back to shift the momentum in their favour. Rokas Gustys got things started with back-to-back layups, and the Pride went on a 14-0 run to take a 7-point lead of their own before the halfway point of the first half.
Hofstra would continue to build on their lead, and a jumper from Juan’ya Green pushed their advantage to 11 with just over 5 minutes to play in the half.
UNC-Wilmington was able to cut the deficit down to 7 before the half was out, thanks to a jumper from Chris Flemmings in the final minute. Hofstra took a 41-34 edge into the locker room, and were looking to put the Seahawks away for good out of the gates in the second half.
The teams traded baskets to open the half before the Pride stretched their lead back to double-digits. Ameen Tanksley connected on a three pointer at the 17:55 mark to give the Pride a 48-36 lead.
While the Seahawks would try to cut into the lead, the Pride always had an answer of their own on offense to keep the lead in double figures. The Seahawks were starting to gain some momentum on both ends of the floor, and started to put a dent in their deficit.
Six straight points for Craig Ponder brought the Seahawks back to within 4 points, at 58-54, but the Pride again had an answer. Two free throws from Tanksley pushed the lead back to 6, but the Seahawks weren’t going to let their comeback efforts fall short.
With 5:19 left on the clock in regulation, C.J. Bryce hit a pair of free throws to give UNC-Wilmington their first lead since early in the first half, at 63-62. A three from Ponder a few minutes later gave the Seahawks a 68-64 cushion with 3:03 to play, and it looked as though they were on their way to the conference title.
The three from Ponder were the last points the Seahawks scored in regulation. Fortunately for them, the Pride were only able to muster up 4 points over the last 3:03 of the game, with Green hitting a pair of free throws with 32 seconds left to tie the game at 68-all.
The top two seeds in the CAA needed overtime to settle their differences and determine who was off to the Big Dance.
Both teams traded baskets over the first three-plus minutes of the extra frame, with Gustys throwing down a dunk inside to tie things up at 73-all with 1:36 to play.
From there, it was all about the Seahawks. They closed the game on a 7-0 run, thanks in large part to a three ball from Denzel Ingram with 34 seconds left that put the final nail in the coffin.
For the first time in 10 years, the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks are CAA champions, and are off to the NCAA Tournament with their 80-73 win over the Hofstra Pride in overtime.
For the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks, a balanced scoring attack amongst their starters was the key to their victory. The starting five accounted for 74 total points, with four players scoring in double-figures. Craig Ponder scored a team-high 20 points to go along with 6 rebounds in the win.
Chris Flemmings added 19 points, while Denzel Ingram chipped in with 17 points of his own, none bigger than the three pointer he hit in the final minute of overtime to seal the deal. Freshman C.J. Bryce was the only starter not to reach double-figures, scoring 8 points in the win.
On the Hofstra side of the ball, the usual suspects led the way on the night. Forward Rokas Gustys put together another impressive double-double performance, recording 19 points and pulling down 23 rebounds in the loss. Ameen Tanksley scored a game-high 24 points.
Guard Juan’ya Green was held in check for most of the night, going 2-of-16 from the field (0-for-6 from three) for 13 points, doing most of his damage from the free throw line.
After being near the top of the CAA standings for most of the regular season, the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks (25-7, 14-4) were able to turn that into an NCAA Tournament appearance. On Selection Sunday, the Seahawks will find out their fate and begin preparations for their opening round showdown.
The loss has to sting for the Hofstra Pride (24-9, 14-4), who came into the season as the pre-season favourite to represent the CAA in the Big Dance. Despite the loss, the Pride will find themselves in a post-season tournament, so the season isn’t quite over just yet.