WILMINGTON, North Carolina (UNCWSports.com) – It’s been nearly 10 months since UNCW and Charleston squared off in the 2017 CAA Men’s Basketball Championship game at the North Charleston Coliseum, and the stakes will be high again when the two clubs meet Thursday at TD Arena.
The revamped Seahawks, 5-13 overall and 2-4 in the CAA, are trying to pick up some momentum for the stretch run of the season. The Cougars are 12-6 overall and 3-3 in the loop and want to keep pace with the circuit’s frontrunners after being tabbed as the preseason favorite in the 10-team league.
“They have a lot of experience back from a team that was very successful last season,” said UNCW Head Coach C.B. McGrath, who will be facing the Cougars for the first time. “They had three tough battles with UNCW last season. They’re not happy with being 3-3 in the conference and we’re not happy at 2-4. We’re both going in there with the mindset that it’s an important game.
“They’ll be at home where they feel more comfortable. We won our last road game (at Elon), so our guys should know what we have to do to compete.”
The Seahawks are looking to bounce back following a roller coaster 81-77 home loss in overtime to Northeastern last Saturday at Trask Coliseum. The Seahawks have played back-to-back sudden death games for the first time since the 2005-06 season and are seeking their second straight road victory after opening the season with 10 consecutive losses away from home.
Coach Earl Grant’s club, meanwhile, dropped into a tie for third place with a 63-58 loss at Elon on Saturday. The Phoenix overcame 37.5 percent shooting by outscoring the Cougars by 10 points after intermission and getting a season-high 23 points from Steven Santa Ana at Alumni Gym.
The Cougars are a perfect 8-0 at home and have won their three home conference games over Towson, Delaware and Northeastern by 11, 15 and 16 points. Senior guard Joe Chealey, the CAA’s Preseason Player-of-the-Year, has not disappointed, starting all 18 contests and averaging a team-best 17.6 ppg.
“He’s been around and does everything for them,” McGrath said of the 6-4, 190-pound veteran. “He gets them into their stuff, competes, makes shots and makes plays. There’s nothing unimpressive about him…he does a lot of things.”
The Seahawks lead the series by a 13-11 margin, including the win in the 2017 title game. The regional rivals met for the first time on Jan. 29, 1990, and became even bigger rivals on Jan. 22, 2014, when the Cougars claimed a 75-70 win in Charleston’s debut season in the conference. UNCW stands 9-2 against CofC since the Cougars joined the CAA in 2014-15.
UNCW has won nine out of the last 10 matchups between the two schools. The Seahawks reeled off eight straight wins before CofC edged UNCW, 67-66, on Feb. 2, 2017, marking the only home loss of the 2016-17 season in 14 games for the Seahawks. Eleven clashes in the 23-game series have been decided by five points or less.
UNCW is 5-6 vs. the Cougars in Charleston through the years, with three straight wins inside TD Arena.
“We’re going to get ready to play just like we do everybody,” added McGrath. “They have a great starting lineup, it’s not a one-man show. We’ll have to prepare well to play Charleston and play our best.”
In the last game between the two teams at TD Arena on Jan. 19, 2017, C.J. Bryce and Chris Flemmings each notched double-doubles and Jordon Talley came off the bench to score a game-high 17 points as UNCW took over sole possession of first place in the CAA with a 65-59 road victory. The Seahawks won their eighth in a row over the Cougars by building a 10-point lead in the second half and limiting CofC to 28.8 percent shooting at TD Arena. Chealey had 17 points for the Cougars.
Sophomore guard Jaylen Fornes is coming off his best week of the season for the Seahawks. The Pamlico County, N.C., guard averaged 22.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists in pair of games vs. Elon and Northeastern. He shot 63.0 percent from the floor (17-of-27) and 75.0 percent (9-of-12) from three-point range and led the Seahawks in scoring both games.
The Seahawks, who feature the second highest scoring offense in the CAA, face the league’s two best defensive teams this weekend in Charleston (1st in scoring defense-65.8 ppg) and Towson (2nd in scoring defense-66.8 ppg). Thursday’s tilt showcases four of the top-9 scorers in the CAA: Joe Chealey (5th-17.6), Devontae Cacok (6th-17.5), Jordon Talley (8th-16.1), Grant Riller (9th-15.8).
Following Thursday’s contest, the Seahawks return to the Port City for a three-game homestand, beginning with a Saturday matchup vs. Towson. The Seahawks will also face James Madison and William & Mary in the homestand as the curtain closes on the January slate.
Live Seahawk Digital Network (SDN) coverage of the UNCW-CofC contest begins at 6:45 p.m. with Mike Vaccaro, the “Voice of the Seahawks,” calling the action. Visit UNCWsports.com/SDN for live audio coverage. In addition, a radio broadcast of the game may be heard on “The Ticket” 95.9 FM and WKXB (99.9 FM-HD3).
For more information on the UNCW men’s basketball team, visit UNCWsports.com and click on the men’s basketball button. Additional information is also available on UNCW’s social media channels: Facebook (UNCW Men’s Basketball), Twitter (@UNCWmenshoops), Instagram (UNCWBasketball).