Hawks walk the plank: UNCW loses OT thriller to ECU


Zachary Kilby/The Seahawk

UNCW’s John Bowen against Johnson & Wales on Nov. 5, 2019.

Zachary Kilby, Sports Editor

GREENVILLE, South Carolina – A smooth crossover and clutch bank shot by Jaylen Sims in the final seconds of regulation tied a ball game that UNCW (2-2) found themselves trailing by 16 at one point and time. Sims and the Seahawks would eventually come up short in overtime, falling to rival East Carolina (4-0) 88-78.

First Half: Seahawk Drought

After a quick offensive start for both teams, ECU’s 11-9 lead quickly grew to 16 as the Seahawks experienced major offensive struggles during the first half.

UNCW went nearly nine minutes without a field goal and relied heavily on free throws to keep them in the game. The Hawks went into halftime shooting 16-20 from the charity stripe and trailed the Pirates 51-37.

Jaylen Sims had a shaky start but finished the half strong, leading the Seahawks in scoring with 12. The reigning CAA Player of the Week came into the contest averaging nearly 27 points per game.

Holy Cross transfer Joe Pridgen made his first appearance for the Seahawks. The 6-foot-5-inch guard accompanied Mike Okauru in the UNCW backcourt to start the game. Pridgen joins the Hawks after averaging 17.4 points per game for the Crusaders last year.

According to Head Coach Takayo Siddle, Pridgen will give the Seahawks another strong and tough rebounder. “I’m going to throw him right in the fire,” said Siddle before Monday’s contest.

Jake Boggs found himself in the starting lineup after a shoulder injury sidelined him in the previous game against Troy. The sophomore ended up playing 15 minutes in the first half, scoring only two points. Boggs’ injury still may be cause for concern after not playing a single second after halftime.

ECU’s Jayden Gardner came in as the AAC’s leading scorer, averaging 21.6 points per game. The junior was forced to check out of the first half with 14:24 left after picking up his second personal foul. Gardner finished the half with just four points and five rebounds.

Gardner’s absence made room for Bitumba Baruti who checked in and had an immediate impact on the game. Baruti finished the half with seven points and three rebounds while opening up the game for ECU’s shooters. The big man’s presence drew the attention of multiple UNCW defenders, which allowed ECU to finish the half shooting 60 percent from three-point range.

An animated Takayo Siddle could be seen heading into the break as the UNCW head coach seemed to be displeased with how his team was rotating to the Pirates’ three-point shooters. ECU came into the game averaging just six made threes per contest and finished the first half against UNCW with nine.

Second Half: Light A Spark  

The Seahawks came out of the break on fire, going on a quick 18-4 run to tie the game at 55 apiece. Sims later broke the tie at the free throw line, giving UNCW their first lead of the game since the 13:27 mark in the first half.

A Brian Tolefree steal led to a wide-open dunk on the other end, capping off a 30-6 run by the Seahawks with 7:26 left to go in the game. ECU’s Head Coach Joe Dooley was forced to call his final timeout at that point as the Pirates trailed by double digits, 67-57 for UNCW’s largest lead of the game.

ECU would fight back however, going on a 16-6 run of their own to close out the second half. Senior guard J.J. Miles was a big factor in ECU’s success on the offensive side of the ball. Miles finished the game with 22 points while shooting 6-7 from behind the arc.

Gardner finished strong after little play in the first half due to foul trouble. The junior ended the game with a double-double, dropping 16 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.

UNCW’s John Bowen had a strong outing of his own. The senior big man grabbed eight rebounds and blocked six shots against a much bigger ECU team. Bowen checked in for Boggs in the first half and played 28 crucial minutes to limit the impact of the Pirates’ bigs.

Sims’ game-tying shot in the closing seconds would be the difference-maker in the second half. The clutch jumper would account for two of the junior’s 28 total points. The CAA’s leading scorer played 43 minutes and put the team on his back when it mattered the most.

Overtime: ‘Close but no Cigar’

Just as Sims put the Seahawks on his back in crunch time, ECU’s star player did the same. Gardner accounted for eight of the Pirates’ 15 overtime points and pushed ECU over the finish line with a ten-point victory.

UNCW scored only five points in the overtime period and turned the ball over a total of four times, twice by Okauru who finished the game with six.

Freshman Jamahri Harvey was the Hawks’ second leading scorer, adding a career-high 14 points and five rebounds along with Pridgen’s 11 points and seven boards in his debut.

The matchup between the two bitter rivals saw 12 lead changes and seven ties throughout 45 total minutes of game time.

Looking Ahead: UNCW vs St. Andrews

The Seahawks will look to bounce back on Wednesday, Dec. 9 when they host St. Andrews (1-3) for their home opener of the 2020-21 season. The Knights come into Trask Coliseum for the first time since Dec. 3, 2014, when UNCW sent them home after a 105-47 blowout victory.