Seahawks soar past Mount Olive in exhibition play

McLeod Brown | Sports Editor

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If UNC Wilmington’s women’s basketball team plays the rest of their schedule the same way they did on Saturday, the 2014 season has a chance to be vastly different than last year’s campaign.

After a slow start in the first half, UNCW outpaced, outran, and outplayed visiting Mount Olive on their way to an 83-63 victory on Saturday afternoon.

Nine separate players scored for the Seahawks, with senior Kelva Atkins and sophomore Johanna McMillan leading the team with 13 points each. Naqaiyyah Teague finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds, while Brie Mobley added 10 points for UNCW.

The Seahawks, coming off a 5-27 (4-14 in CAA) season last year, appeared rejuvenated by a roster featuring six new faces, including four transfers who were forced to sit out all of last year per NCAA transfer rules.

While two of those transfers, projected starting point guard Shatia Cole (Coastal Carolina) and guard Jasmine Steele (Alabama), did not play against Mount Olive, Saturday marked the first time forwards Jordan Henry (Iona) and Sarah Myatt (Queens) competed in a UNCW uniform.

Henry, who at a listed height of six-foot, three-inches is the tallest player on UNCW’s roster, finished the afternoon with four points and five rebounds in 17 minutes of play.

Myatt, meanwhile, also had success against the Trojans, nearly finishing with a double-double at seven points and eight rebounds.

“We add Rebecca Banks and then Ryan Flowers, and that gives us a substantial amount of size,” said UNCW head coach Adell Harris. “We have four kids who are 6’2” or taller. That’s pretty good. Jordan and Sarah right now have sat out a year, so they’re both trying to figure it out and get into a groove…It’s good to have both of them.”

The first half was a story of runs for both teams. After the Trojans used a 13-3 run in just under four minutes to take a 26-19 lead over UNCW into the third media timeout, the Seahawks used three steals in less than 30 seconds to pull within one with 6:36 left in the half.

UNCW would take the lead on Atkins’ free throw with 4:40 left in the half, putting the home team up 30-29.

Then, after Mount Olive regained the lead 34-33 on Shy’Lia Buie’s three-pointer with 3:34 in the half, the Seahawks went on a 12-2 tear to take a 45-36 advantage into the locker room.

Sophomore Johanna McMillan led UNCW in the first half with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting, including going 3-of-5 from beyond the arc.

The home team tallied 11 steals in the first 20 minutes, paced by Naqaiyyah Teague with five and Kelva Atkins with four.

“We’re obviously happy with the outcome,” Harris said. “I thought Mount Olive gave us trouble early. Maybe we were just kind of jittery about the first home game. But I thought our kids responded towards the end of the first half with a nice run to give us a cushion and we just built on it from there. Very pleased, very balanced scoring, very happy with what we were able to get done.”

The second half was all Seahawks, with the team using a 16-4 run to jump out to a 61-40 lead less than five minutes into the second frame. The team forced six Trojans’ turnovers during the sprint.

UNCW would earn their largest lead of the game on Jordan Henry’s free throw with 4:47 left in the contest, pushing the Seahawks’ cushion to 81-52.

Overall, the Seahawks finished 26-for-77 (33.8%) from the floor, and 6-for-18 (33.3%) on three-pointers. The team also had 17 steals on the day and outrebounded the Trojans 51-40.

The victory marked UNCW’s first-ever win against Mount Olive, with the Trojans winning both regular season meetings during the 1979-80 campaign. The Seahawks exhibition record now stands at 15-13 all-time, as well, with the team getting back on the winning side after falling to UNC Pembroke 64-60 last year.

For a team looking to turn the corner in Harris’ third season at the helm, a performance like Saturday’s may just be what the squad needs to gain that spark.

A year after only suiting up seven players, having a full roster at their disposal breeds that optimism for UNCW.

“We talk about it all the time as a staff, you should be coach of the year when you have to coach seven kids,” Harris said. “But when you get to coach 13, you should just do your job and win basketball games or at least be very competitive. But I’d never had that opportunity here. It’s been two  long years where we’ve just played seven kids and eight kids. So now we actually get to coach our team and we get to do some of the things we want to do whether it’s trapping or playing full-court, switching everything or playing big lineup or a small lineup, we have options so that’s very good.”