As Ameen Tanksley’s 3-pointer fell through the net, one thing was certain: Hofstra was rolling. The redshirt senior’s trey gave the Pride a 38-18 lead with 2:24 remaining in the first half as Hofstra blasted full speed ahead through UNCW’s defense like the Titanic through the Atlantic.
Until disaster struck.
Tanksley’s triple proved to be the Pride’s final basket of the half as the Seahawks closed the first frame on an 8-0 run, cutting the deficit to 12 at the break.
After holding the UNCW offense to just 0.72 points per possession in the first half, Hofstra’s defense fell apart in the final 20 minutes. The Seahawks ran amok, scoring at a clip of 1.26 ppp in the second half as Hofstra’s massive lead evaporated. UNCW earned their first lead of the day, 63-62, on a C.J. Bryce jumper with 3:18 remaining in the game.
Hofstra fought back thanks to star guard Juan’ya Green, who with 20 seconds remaining and UNCW up three, stole the ball and nailed a 3-pointer from the left corner to knot the game at 67.
However, it was the Seahawks’ Denzel Ingram who played the hero. The redshirt junior buried a 3-pointer with just four seconds remaining to give his team the lead for good.
Here are three thoughts from UNCW’s epic comeback over Hofstra. Click here to check out our full photo gallery from this game.
1.) The Seahawks controlled the paint. Despite a career-high 21 rebounds from Hofstra sophomore Rokas Gustys, UNCW did most of their damage close to the basket. 44 of the Seahawks’ 70 points came within the friendly confines of the paint. Only 12 of their points, all from Ingram, came from behind the arc.
Part of Hofstra’s second half breakdown can be traced back to the disappearance of Gustys on the offensive end. The sophomore forward appeared well on his way to a ninth straight double-double when he carried eight points and 10 rebounds into halftime, but was limited to just one point and one shot attempt in the final 20 minutes.
“We’re going to have to look at that,” head coach Joe Mihalich said of Gustys’ drop-off. “We probably should have gotten that ball to him more. He’s starting to draw such attention that they make it really hard for him to get the ball. They take you out of your offense.”
Gustys did corral 11 rebounds in the second half, including three on the offensive glass, which makes his offensive shutdown even more surprising. Despite those numbers, Gustys alone couldn’t stop the Seahawks’ penetration in the second half.
2.) The Kevin Keatts era is in full swing at Wilmington. With the win over Hofstra, UNCW now holds first place in the CAA standings. It’s a familiar spot for the second year head coach, but a destination that seemed light years away for the program less than three years ago.
The Seahawks held the CAA’s worst record in the 2013-14 season, ending their season with a loss to Hofstra in the opening round of the conference tournament. Enter Keatts, who served as associate head coach at Louisville during that 2013-14 season.
Keatts took the lessons learned in three years under Rick Pitino, including a National Championship in 2013, and engineered one of the top turnaround seasons at the Division I level last season. The Seahawks went from worst to first, finishing last season in a 12-6 knot with William & Mary, Northeastern, and James Madison for first place in the CAA.
The second year head coach has his Seahawks in control of the conference at 9-2 this year, now bolstered by the confidence of a 20 point comeback on the road.
3.) Hofstra’s breakdown was a rare occurrence. The Pride have not been rattled easily this year, and the second half flub seen on Thursday is more the exception than the rule.
“I’m not sure that we kept our composure the way we needed to down the stretch,” Mihalich said. “We did it at Northeastern in that triple overtime game, we did it possession by possession the last few games, but for whatever reason we didn’t do that tonight. We’re going to have to own that, deal with that, and make sure it motivates us.”
Since Hofstra pulled out that 3OT victory at Northeastern two weeks ago, the Pride had won three more in a row before falling to UNCW. In contrast, the loss proved devastating for the Huskies, who have lost all four games since, including three on their home floor.
Hofstra’s senior leadership, headlined by Green and Tanksley, has been a stabilizing force through a challenging but highly successful season. Each of the Pride’s last three losses has been answered by a win.
“We know every game you play, it’s going to be a real challenge, a good team, a team you better respect,” Mihalich said of the upcoming conference slate. “It’s going to be a team you better be prepared for, and you’d better be ready for a dog fight no matter who you play.”
Hofstra begins a three game road trip Sunday at James Madison, where Green will seek to enter a highly exclusive club. Thanks to 21 points Thursday, Green now sits just 10 points away from becoming the fourth player in the history of Division I basketball to score 1,000 points at two separate schools.
That contest, and Green’s opportunity at history, will be broadcast on SNY Sunday afternoon.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.