Seahawks look to jump ahead in CAA standings

Cacok: "I feel we're in a good spot mentally coming off two road wins."

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Seahawks look to jump ahead in CAA standings

UNCW head coach C.B. McGrath during the Seahawks' conference opener against College of Charleston on Dec. 29, 2018.

UNCW head coach C.B. McGrath during the Seahawks' conference opener against College of Charleston on Dec. 29, 2018.

Noah Powers/The Seahawk

UNCW head coach C.B. McGrath during the Seahawks' conference opener against College of Charleston on Dec. 29, 2018.

Noah Powers/The Seahawk

Noah Powers/The Seahawk

UNCW head coach C.B. McGrath during the Seahawks' conference opener against College of Charleston on Dec. 29, 2018.

Brandon Sans, Sports Editor

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Following two Colonial Athletic Association road wins, the UNC Wilmington men’s basketball returns to Trask Coliseum for games against Delaware on Thursday and Drexel on Saturday with a chance to establish itself as a conference threat.

The Seahawks (6-10, 2-1 CAA) escaped a double-overtime thriller against James Madison, 86-83, and then avoided a collapse against Towson, 67-61. The wins gave them an above-.500 record in CAA play for the first time since winning the conference two seasons ago.

In fact, the Seahawks could be undefeated in CAA play, just as much they could be winless. All three games were decided within single digits and were within four points in the final minute of play.

What’s changed…

Defensive stops and team chemistry have improved after a non-conference schedule mixed with AP top 25 programs (North Carolina and Furman) and mid-major programs who are good enough to win their respective conferences (Davidson, Georgia State and UNC Greensboro).

The Seahawk’s nonconference opponents shot 47.4 percent against them while they have limited their three CAA opponents to 39.2 percent.

Even though UNCW sits last in the CAA by giving up an average of 80.1 points-per-game, it didn’t allow College of Charleston or Towson to score more than 73, while James Madison needed two overtime periods to reach 83 points.

“Our guys did a great job competing, toughing out some victories and really made progress on the defensive side,” said UNCW coach C.B. McGrath. “Guys are starting to believe in each other and have confidence they know their teammates are going to be there in the right spots.”

The return of sophomore Ty Gadsden and his 52 percent from three-point range from injury during the road trip regained some of the depth McGrath lost due to the transfer of Jeff Gary and season-ending injury suffered by Jacque Brown.

Once Gadsden gets his legs back underneath him after missing four games (all losses) the Seahawks will have another shooter for freshman point guard Kai Toews.

Speaking of Toews…

Stepping up

Forget that Toews’ is averaging about three more assists per game than anyone else in the CAA. Toews’ average of 7.9 assists is third in the nation and first among freshman. His 126 total assists put him second in the country, three behind Murray State’s Ja Morant.

“People asked me when they first Kai, if he really was a freshman,” senior forward Devontae Cacok said. “Just watching him, you can tell he looks completely different. He knows what he’s doing.”

Cacok is also among the top players in the NCAA this year. Entering Thursday night’s game against Delaware, he is fifth in rebounds-per-game and tied for third with 10 double-doubles this year. He won the NCAA stat title for field goal percentage as a sophomore and rebounds per game as a junior.

“It just comes with having good teammates. It’s a team thing. Without having good teammates to be able to knock down that shot or finish that layup or whatever like that, you don’t get those assists,” said Cacok. “That’s just like the field goal (percentage) — without having good players to throw me the ball, I don’t get a good field goal percentage.”

Sports Editor Brandon Sans can be found on Twitter @bsans10. Any tips or suggestions should be forwarded via email to bms8544@uncw.edu.