UNCW drops charity exhibition against Clemson

Brownell: “I care deeply about this community.”


Noah Powers/The Seahawk

Kai Toews (10) flies in for the easy layup

Brandon Sans, Sports Editor

It was a show and then some.

Even though UNC Wilmington dropped its Hurricane Florence charity exhibition against no. 22 Clemson by a score of 78-67, enough went right for the Seahawks to provide optimism this season can be much different than last year. 

Brownell Homecoming

Clemson coach Brad Brownell’s return to Wilmington wasn’t special just because he started his coaching career here back in 1994. Wilmington was the place where he and wife Paula welcomed two daughters into the world bleeding teal.

As Brownell left for Wright State in 2006 and then accepted the Clemson job in 2010, his fondness for Wilmington never wavered. As his former home was devastated by Florence, he knew where he could act, he should.

“It’s important. I called [UNCW coach C.B. McGrath] and said ‘If we can make this work, we’d be happy to come down and play,’” Brownell said. “Twelve years is a long time to spend in one place. [My family] visits regularly. Just to have the opportunity to come back and let people know how much I care.”

Confidence over Clemson

The Seahawks just looked different.

There was no hesitation from sophomore guard Jeff Gary who stepped into a pair of three-pointers and made one.

In his first game back since he lost all of last year to a knee injury, forward Matt Elmore entered the game and spun his way to a basket in the post.

Junior guard Jaylen Fornes did not miss a shot from anywhere on his way to 15 first-half points.

The Seahawks lead the Tigers by eight points at halftime even with minimal contribution from senior forward Devontae Cacok who had two points in the opening half.

If UNCW can display this type of confidence in the regular season, when its slated to play one potential top-25 team in North Carolina, the fifth-place ranking in the Colonial Athletic Association preseason poll may feel light.

“Last year we always played hard, but we didn’t do the little things,” said redshirt junior Ty Taylor II who had 17 points against Clemson. “We still have to work on finishing the game out.”

No records, stats, rankings, or anything else of significance were affected on Saturday. What was affected, however, was the Seahawks confidence.

Point guard battle

Even though guard Jacque Brown started the game, the night belonged to freshman guard Kai Toews. From the first time Toews checked in after roughly three minutes of play, the Seahawk offense looked different for all good reasons.

Between no-look passes and the confidence of a seasoned veteran, Toews both made plays and facilitated the offense for others as the Seahawks stuck with a top-25 opponent until the very end. With an explosive first step and ability to cover ground, Toews should be the favorite to open the regular season as the starting point guard.

“I think Kai played the best of all the point guards,” said McGrath. “A lot of people have great one games. We are encouraged. We have been since we recruited him. This is my vision of how he can play and we hope he keeps progressing.”

Toews will have further opportunity to establish himself as the starting point guard when UNCW plays its final exhibition game against William Peace next Friday at Trask Coliseum.