Seahawks prevail in home opener

McLeod Brown | Sports Editor

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The UNCW men’s basketball team started out the new season on a winning note Sunday, prevailing over UNC Asheville in a thrilling competition, 67-59.

The Seahawks, sporting new gold uniforms with “The Dub” across the front, displayed a grittiness that they did not possess last year. Being unable to contend in the postseason and being picked to finish last in the CAA this year seemed to fuel the Seahawks throughout the game. They would not be denied the win.

“I’m happy for our kids who have worked hard in practices to get to this point,” said UNCW coach Buzz Peterson. “I felt like they really deserved it. I knew the team that was coming in here, UNC Asheville, I’ve said it all week they’re a team that knows they should win every time they step out there.”

The win was a total team effort, demonstrated by how the squad reacted when star forward Keith Rendleman was subbed out with 13:05 left in the second half after collecting his fourth personal foul.

Instead of wilting and giving the game away, the Seahawks proved that they had a variety of other weapons on offense who were capable of carrying the team to victory.

The two key catalysts to the win were sophomore forward Cedrick Williams and graduate student Tyree Graham.

Williams collected seven points, six rebounds, and one block over the final 13:05 of the game while Graham drilled a three-pointer right in front of the UNCW bench at the 1:50 mark that was the nail in the coffin for the Bulldogs, putting the Seahawks ahead 63-55.

Williams, viewed by many to be the cornerstone of the program’s future, finished the game with 15 points and 13 rebounds.

“When Keith went down, we all knew what we had to do,” Williams said. “We had to step up individually. As a team, Keith is a big part of our success and, when he goes down, there’s no hesitation for everyone to pick up their game. We’re a team, so when he went down, yeah, I did feel like it was my time to step up. I feel like I did that.”

The victory was especially sweet for Graham, who finished with 12 points and two assists. Sunday’s game marked the first time in two-plus years that the transfer had the opportunity to compete on the court, as he suffered season-ending injuries both years at his former school, Rutgers, before playing a game with the Scarlet Knights.

“I just thank the man above,” Graham said between tears. “It’s been tough. I love basketball, and it’s been my life. To be able to go out there after two years of these major injuries and help a team, I can’t even explain it. It’s exciting. I did it for my mom and my team and for me. A year ago somebody told me I’d never play Division I basketball again. To come out here and do what I could do, I’m just thankful.”

If the Seahawks can maintain this level of competitiveness throughout their season, then come March, the team will have something to be proud of, even if they cannot play in the postseason.

When it comes to motivation, however, the Seahawks need not look further than their fellow CAA members.

“We’re going to continue to have this chip on our shoulder,” said Graham. “Nobody really respects us. I feel like we’re going to continue to work hard, day in and day out, to continue to represent UNCW the way we should.”