UNCW quiets Phoenix with CAA victory

McLeod Brown | Sports Editor

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Donning their brand new “sun yellow” jerseys as they celebrated the revealing of the school’s new logo, it was hard to miss UNC Wilmington’s men’s basketball team on Wednesday night.

Their play on the court emphasized that statement in more ways than one.

The Seahawks jumped all over Elon early and didn’t look back, on their way to a 82-65 win over the Phoenix and their fourth straight victory.

UNCW found a way to win on both ends of the court Wednesday night.

All 11 players that dressed out for the home team earned playing time against Elon, with eight of those Seahawks scoring seven points or more.

Senior guard Freddie Jackson led the team with 15 points, while Cedrick Williams and Dylan Sherwood finished with 14 a piece.

UNCW ramped up their defensive effort as well, converting 16 Elon turnovers into 24 points while holding the visitors to 41% shooting from the field. Williams finished the evening with five steals.

Overall, Wednesday’s performance marked one of the Seahawks’ most complete performances of the season, as they continue to make waves in the CAA and turn heads in the process.

“This was one of those games where coming into the game we were very concerned,” said UNCW coach Kevin Keatts. “Elon played Delaware the last time out and had 94 points. If you look at the William & Mary game, when they won against William & Mary at home, they had 85 points so it’s a team that’s capable of scoring a lot of points. I thought we did a really good job of understanding scouting reports, understanding how to play their guards. This is one of those games where, the guys that played the most, I think they played more of a complete game than we’ve played all year long. I know most of you guys (media) were looking when we had that 25 point halftime lead, just wondering when it would go away. But it wasn’t happening; we’re maturing a little bit.”

The team continued playing at a high level in front of 4,419 fans in Trask Coliseum on Wednesday.

The first half featured a little bit of everything from UNCW, as the team shot a blistering 62% from the field in the opening frame, including going 6-of-9 from three-point land.

The Seahawks clamped down on the defensive end as well, limiting the Phoenix to 29% shooting on their way to a 47-23 halftime advantage. The 47 points were the most UNCW has scored in a first half all year.

After freshman Elijah Bryant’s jumper put Elon on the board first, UNCW reeled off a 15-3 run to give them a 10-point cushion at the first media timeout.

Sophomore CJ Gettys played a critical role in the run, scoring six points to go along with three blocks on the defensive end. Junior guard Craig Ponder also had seven points during the stretch.

The home team held their largest lead of the half at 26 on senior guard Freddie Jackson’s layup with 33 seconds left, before Christian Hairston’s pair of free throws created the halftime score.

“We just feed off each other as a team,” Williams said. “We want to play together, as a team, as a unit. We don’t have any selfish players on this team, and I feel like that played a huge part in tonight’s victory. We’re just going to keep building on it.”

After a slow start to the second half, UNCW found their rhythm again as they kept the pressure on the Phoenix.

Tanner Samson’s 3-pointer with 13:22 left in the game cut Elon’s deficit to 16. That was as close as they would get, however, as UNCW burst into a 16-2 run to give themselves their largest lead of the game with Jordon Talley’s free throw with 9:39 left making it a 73-43 lead.

Jackson and Talley combined to score 11 of the Seahawks points during the run.

The home team also dominated the post game as well, owning a 44-26 points in the paint advantage.

“I thought Wilmington played with a bounce in their step and I thought we tried to play,” said Elon coach Matt Matheny. “We got a lot of young guys playing heavy minutes. We’re preparing well. And sometimes when you prepare well, you try to do the right things and we really tried to do the right things in the first half. In our attempt to try, we weren’t playing with an aggression and you can’t play against a team like this back on your heels without aggression because they’ll eat you up.”

Now with their seventh win in eight home games, UNCW heads on the road for two away games, before returning to Trask on Feb. 7 for their homecoming game against William & Mary.

The Seahawks enter Saturday’s matchup with Drexel tied atop the CAA standings with William & Mary.

With their level of play better than in recent memory, students and fans have began to show their appreciation for the team, something the players are hopeful will continue.

“I feel like they (fans) played a huge part in tonight’s victory,” Williams said. “Our student section was live and active. I felt like once we got them behind us early, we fed off their energy and I want to give a special thanks to them, to our fans and especially our students for coming out, supporting us, and getting behind us.”