BALTIMORE (AP) – Kevin Keatts walked into the media room, netting in hand. Joining his smiling players on the stage, NC Wilmington’s second-year coach dropped the freshly shorn nylon over the trophy his team received as Colonial Athletic Association champions.
The subdued gesture came shortly after a far more raucous scene at midcourt, where the Seahawks and their fans whooped and hollered in a celebration that was a decade in the making.
“It’s just an incredible feeling,” guard Chris Flemmings said after UNCW beat top-seeded Hofstra 80-73 in overtime Monday night to win the CAA crown and earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Craig Ponder scored 20 points for the Seahawks (25-7), who last won the CAA title in 2006.
The game was tied before a three-point play by Seahawks freshman C.J. Bryce made it 76-73 with 1:20 left in overtime. After a Hofstra misfire, Denzel Ingram drilled a 3-pointer with 35 seconds remaining to clinch the comeback victory.
Flemmings scored 19 for second-seeded UNCW (25-7) and Ingram added 17.
“It was a great battle all the way to the end,” Keatts said. “We were very fortunate to come out on top.”
Rokas Gustys had 18 points and 23 rebounds for the Pride (24-9), and Ameen Tanksley scored 24. Hofstra was seeking its first CAA championship; the Pride last played in the NCAA Tournament in 2001 after winning the America East.
“We’re down right now. We’re broken hearted,” coach Joe Mihalich said. “But when the dust has settled, we’ll realize what we accomplished this year.”
This was Hofstra’s first appearance in the CAA title game since 2006, when it lost to UNCW.
The teams split two games during the regular season, with the winner staging a comeback in each contest. It was more of the same in this one.
After a dunk by Gustys put Hofstra up 52-40 with 15:33 to go, the Seahawks rattled off three straight baskets to get within six. The 6-foot-9 Gustys temporarily blunted the comeback, sweeping the boards on the defensive end and sinking a pair of layups to make it 56-48.
It was 62-58 before Ponder drilled a 3-pointer, and two free throws by Bryce with 5:19 left made it 63-62 – the Seahawks’ first lead since 18-15.
Hofstra missed 12 straight shots from the field before Juan’ya Green made a layup with 1:42 remaining to cut the deficit to 68-66.
Two free throws by Green tied it with 33 seconds to go, and neither team could break the deadlock in regulation.
“I thought in the second half, we did it on the defensive end,” Keatts said. “And then our conditioning kicked in during overtime.”
Tanksley scored 17 points and the Pride shot 58 percent in taking a 41-34 halftime lead.
Ingram made his first four shots to help UNCW move in front 18-11, but Hofstra answered with 14 straight points to go up 25-18.
It was 36-25 before Flemmings scored the Seahawks’ final nine points before the break.
Both teams made 15 baskets in the first half but UNCW took 12 more shots, thanks in part to 11 offensive rebounds.
UNCW: The Seahawks won their first two tournament games by a total of five points before this overtime thriller.
Hofstra: The Pride’s two losses to UNCW this season were by three points and in OT.
UNCW: This is the 10th time the Seahawks have played in the CAA title game. They’re 5-5. … Ponder received his 83rd start, more than twice that of any teammate.
Hofstra: This was Mihalich’s 100th game at Hofstra. He’s 54-46 over three seasons. … Gustys, a sophomore from Lithuania, has 17 double-doubles in his last 19 games. He had 12 of Hofstra’s 15 rebounds in the first half.
UNCW: NCAA Tournament.
Hofstra: A likely bid to the NIT.