BOSTON, MA (UNCWSPORTS.COM) — Senior guard Chris Flemmings got the Seahawks off to a strong start and sophomore forward Devontae Cacok came up with a big steal in the closing seconds as UNCW set a school record for regular season victories with a 66-65 nailbiter over host Northeastern in a Colonial Athletic Association men’s basketball matchup on Thursday night at historic Matthews Arena.
The Seahawks (23-5, 12-3) took the first game of the series with the Huskies and conclude their road slate with a 4 p.m. matchup on Saturday at Hofstra. NU (14-13, 7-8) lost for the fourth time in five outings and fell to 0-2 on their three-game homestand.
“I’m very proud of our guys tonight,” said UNCW third-year Head Coach Kevin Keatts, who stayed perfect at Matthews Arena in three tries. “We had a couple guys who haven’t practiced much in the last three days and we just ran out of gas. I knew that could happen, so I told them to count on our defense to win the game and find a way.”
Senior guard Chris Flemmings, who canned all 11 of his field goal attempts in last year’s appearance in Boston, torched the nets again on Thursday. He scored 20 of his team-high 21 points in the first half to help UNCW race to a 39-19 cushion before holding on at the end.
Sophomore guard C.J. Bryce took over for Flemmings after intermission, scoring eight of his 19 points in the second half and pulling down nine rebounds. Cacok wound up with eight points, eight boards and two steals, including a key play with 10 seconds left.
NU senior guard T.J. Williams, the CAA’s leading scorer at 21.0 points per game, wound up with 33 points on 10-of-17 shooting and 12-of-14 at the free throw line. He pumped in 27 of his 33 points in the second half to help the Huskies cut into the big deficit.
Graduate guard Alex Murphy chipped in 13 points and sophomore forward Anthony Green finished with 12 for the Huskies, who scored 34 of their 65 points in the paint.
The Seahawks, who remained in first place in the CAA standings, collected their 23rd win of the regular season, eclipsing the 22 victories recorded by the 2005-06 and 2015-16 teams.
UNCW capitalized on NU’s cold shooting in the opening 20 minutes to build a 39-19 cushion at halftime and still led, 49-28, on reserve forward Chuck Ogbodo’s bucket with just under 16 minutes remaining before the Huskies rallied. It was UNCW’s largest lead of the contest.
With Williams as the catalyst, NU reeled off 11 unanswered points over a 3:34 stretch to close the gap to 10 points.
The two clubs then traded baskets until Cacok converted a tip-in with 3:36 left to put the Seahawks out front, 62-55. But NU surged again and climbed within 62-61 with 52 seconds on the clock on a pair of free throws by Williams.
The Seahawks then missed a jumper with 26 seconds left, but Cacok saved the day with his steal and Ingram dropped in two free throw for a 64-61 edge with 8.3 seconds showing.
UNCW fouled Williams intentionally on his next trip down the court, but the scorer missed the first of two free throws and Ingram drained two free throws with 5.2 seconds to play, extending the lead to 66-62. Williams launched a long trey as time expired for the final tally.
In the first half, NU grabbed a quick 5-2 lead on Green’s dunk with just over 17 minutes left and the Huskies remained on top, 9-8, following a free throw by the crafty Williams.
Ogbodo’s layup kickstarted a 6-0 mini-run to give the Seahawks a 14-9 advantage and after the Huskies tied the game at 14-all, UNCW exploded with a 17-2 run over 5:30 to take control.
With Flemmings on fire, UNCW closed out the half with a 16-2 spurt to take a 20-point lead into the break. Flemmings finished the first half connecting on 9-of-12 from the floor and 2-of-3 from deep to lead all scorers with 20 points.
The Seahawk defense held the Huskies to 25.9 percent shooting in the first half on just 7-of-27 and forced seven turnovers. UNCW, meanwhile, had just one miscue and scored 16 points in the paint.
GAME NOTES: The Seahawks lead the all-time series with the Huskies, 11-10…Denzel Ingram dished out four assists…The Seahawks won the rebounding battle, 43-34…UNCW committed just five turnovers…UNCW scored 20 second chance points…The Seahawks went 6-of-25 from deep and the Huskies made just 3-of-17…UNCW stands 4-6 at Matthews Arena…UNCW is 9-10 vs. NU’s Bill Coen and 3-6 vs. the NU skipper on his home floor…The Seahawks are 3-2 in February…Kevin Keatts stands14-7 in February games….Keatts is now 42-14 all-time in CAA games and 18-8 in CAA road outings.