UNCW handles Huskies in homecoming victory

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UNCW handles Huskies in homecoming victory

Sophomore Chuck Ogbodo raises up for two points in Saturday's win.

Sophomore Chuck Ogbodo raises up for two points in Saturday's win.

Sophomore Chuck Ogbodo raises up for two points in Saturday's win.

Sophomore Chuck Ogbodo raises up for two points in Saturday's win.

McLeod Brown | Sports Editor

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One week ago, UNCW’s men’s basketball team had a shot to take control of first-place in the CAA in the final month of the regular season.

They fell short, falling to William & Mary 56-53 in a nail biter that has become reminiscent of their season.

For their homecoming game on Saturday, the Seahawks had another chance to grab a hold of first place in conference, albeit to become tied with the Tribe atop the standings. They made sure to take advantage of the opportunity.

UNCW played another game down to the wire, but found themselves on the winning end of this one, toppling Northeastern 66-61. The victory marked UNCW’s second over the preseason CAA favorite and 10th win in their last 13 games.

The team’s position this late in the season is a welcomed change for a program that had suffered through four straight seasons of 20 plus losses before this year. Now, with a chance to capturing their first regular-season crown since 2006, the Seahawks are conscious to not lose focus of what got them here in the first place.

“I think what these guys have learned is not to panic,” said UNCW coach Kevin Keatts. “Certainly, when you look at conference play, it’s going to be tight games and you got to figure out how to win those games. Right now, we don’t panic, we feel good about it. Certain teams, when they get in tight games because they might not have been in them, we’ve been in probably five or six this year and we came out on the winning end so we don’t panic.”

That calm and collected mindset was evident in the waning minutes of Saturday’s game against the Huskies.

Clinging to a narrow 56-55 lead with 1:37 left to play, senior guard Freddie Jackson took a swing pass from Jordon Talley, rose up from the top of the arc, and drilled a critical 3-pointer to give his team a two-possession cushion. The Seahawks converted 7-of-8 free throws from there to secure the victory.

All four starting guards for UNCW scored in double figures, with senior Addison Spruill leading the way with 16 points. Junior Craig Ponder added 15, with Talley finishing with 14 points. Jackson pitched in with 10.

UNCW also clamped down on the defensive end, limiting the Huskies to 41% (20-49) shooting, including 25% (4-16) from the 3-point line.

“We hung in there and stayed together,” Jackson said. “I thought we played hard on both ends especially in the last couple of minutes. We made our free throws down the stretch to seal the deal. We made an emphasis on guarding the 3-point line. I think all of our guards, including our post people, did a good job of playing on the ball defense. That was big for us tonight.”

Reserve big man Chuck Ogbodo also let his presence be known for the Seahawks. The sophomore was forced into action when starter Cedrick Williams picked up his fourth foul with 16 minutes to go in regulation. Ogbodo provided a physical playing style to help counteract Huskies’ leading scorer Scott Eatheron, who finished with a game-high 23 points.

Ogbodo finished the game with four points, nine rebounds, and three blocks, providing strong minutes for a thin bench.

“When we went into the locker room (at halftime) coach was telling us it doesn’t matter if we lose or not,” Ogbodo said. “All he wants from us is to come in there and play the defensive game that he has been telling us to play for a long time. I think we all bought into it when we stepped on the floor and everybody was pushing each other. We played defense, got rebounds, got box outs, all those things came as we were playing.”

With just four game left in the regular season, UNCW controls their fate heading into the conference tournament. It’s fair to say it’s been some time since the team has been able to claim that. 

Although their current position is anything but familiar to the veterans on the team, the mindset is still the same as the beginning of the year.

“It’s going to be fun,” Jackson said. “We still got a good little bit of basketball left. We don’t plan on just going into the tournament. We plan on going into the tournament and putting in a valiant effort to win the thing and continue on our season. We don’t want it to end short. We want to stay in it for the long run.”