The UNCW Seahawks had lost five games in a row to Hofstra, including a 68-56 Pride victory earlier this month. UNCW ended that streak with a thrilling 79-74 victory Saturday afternoon in Hempstead, NY.
The cold-shooting Pride appeared to still be stuck in the shooting slump from their recent loss at preseason favorite Northeastern where they shot just 38.7% from the floor while taking a season-high 75 shots. Hofstra entered the weekend with the 17th best scoring offense in the nation, averaging 79.2 ppg.
In Saturday’s loss to UNCW, Hofstra shot 41.9%, but struggled from behind the arc. The Pride normally make 39.7% of their 3-pointers, but were just 6-21 (28.6%) on Saturday.
Even more distressing than their offensive woes was the Pride’s play on the defensive end. After taking a 38-33 lead into halftime, Hofstra allowed the Seahawks to shoot 50% from the floor with a 4-6 mark from behind the arc in the second half.
”We obviously did not defend in the second half,” head coach Joe Mihalich said. “We came out soft to start the second half. We set a good defensive tone in the first half, but we set the wrong tone in the second by how we played to start the half. We turned a lead into a nip and tuck game down the stretch.”
Though Hofstra’s offense wasn’t far from its normal output, most of the damage was done from the free throw line. The Pride went to the line 39 times, their third highest total of the year. In fact, one of the higher totals came when they took 43 attempts in the first game against UNCW. However the top number remains 49 attempts, ironically against another brand of Seahawks – the ones from Wagner.
The Pride executed their plan of getting to the line to perfection, but their troubles from behind the arc doomed them. Ameen Tanksley’s 4-8 mark was the lone bright spot as Juan’ya Green, Brian Bernardi, and Dion Nesmith combined to go 2-13 from downtown.
The Seahawks dominated the paint to the tune of 40-18. In the first meeting that stat was much closer – a 30-26 UNCW advantage – but soft play from freshman Rokas Gustys and foul trouble for Moussa Kone allowed center C.J. Gettys and the Seahawks to control the interior.
UNCW, who finished in the CAA cellar last season with a 3-13 conference record, surpassed their win total from last season with the victory and moves into a third place tie with Hofstra at 4-2. Senior guard Addison Spruill paced the Seahawks with 23 points and was joined in double figures by Freddie Jackson (21), Jordan Talley (17), and Gettys (10).
The Seahawks have not surpasses five conference wins in any of the last three seasons, but first-year head coach Kevin Keatts seems to have his team on the right track.
“We like where we’re at,” the former Louisville assistant said. “These guys have invited me into their program and accepted the way I want to play. Certainly to get off to a 4-2 start and having the opportunity to go on the road and win two big games is a plus for us. Hopefully we can build on that.”
The Seahawks were picked to finish ninth of 10 teams in the CAA preseason poll, but are looking like the early surprise team in the conference. They have already accrued road wins against two conference contenders in Hofstra and Northeastern, so they have proven they can not only hang around with the top teams in the conference, but they can take them down in their own backyards.
Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac, the MAAC, and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.