UNC Wilmington fought back from a large second-half deficit to beat Hofstra 80-73 in overtime to win the CAA Tournament and earn themselves an automatic bid to dance.
The second-seeded Seahawks trailed by as much as 12 in the second half to the top-seeded Pride in Monday night’s CAA Championship game in Baltimore. With 10 minutes left in the game Senior Craig Ponder forced a steal and scored a layup to cut the Pride lead to just four. A few minutes later, he knocked down a deep three ball to cut the lead to 1 with 6:05 left.
After a pair of CJ Bryce free throws with five minutes left, UNCW had their first lead in over 27 minutes of game time. The last 5 minutes saw several ties and lead changes with the Seahawks getting a chance to win it with a final possession in regulation, but Ponder was called for a debatable charge and the game went to overtime.
Wilmington dominated the overtime period, outscoring Hofstra 12-5 on their way to the first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006.
Ponder led the team in scoring with 20 points on 7-13 shooting. Junior guard Chris Flemmings was spectacular for the Seahawks, scoring 19 while grabbing a team-high 7 rebounds. Denzel Ingram was also impressive, scoring 17 and dishing out 6 assists.
The game started out with UNCW dominating the first 8 minutes before Hofstra went on a 19-2 run to control the middle 20 minutes. It seemed the Seahawks couldn’t handle the several different defensive schemes that Hofstra threw at them. Pride senior guard Ameen Tanksley was unstoppable until he missed his last four field goal attempts. Tanksley finished with a game-high 24 points.
The most impressive player on the floor for either team was Rokas Gustys of Hofstra. He scored 18 points and grabbed 23 rebounds, well more than half of his team’s total of 37. It was Gustys 22nd double-double of the season.
UNC Wilmington will compete in their 5th NCAA Tournament appearance. Hofstra is most likely NIT bound.