UNCW Men’s Basketball drops CAA opener against Towson

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Mike Okauru (Photo: Tanner Barth, WWAY)

TOWSON, MD (UNCW Sports)–Towson jumped on the back of All-CAA First-Teamer Zane Martin and used its decided size advantage to hand UNCW a 72-69 setback in the Colonial Athletic Association men’s basketball opener for the Seahawks early Monday at SECU Arena.

The Tigers improved to 2-5 and 1-1 on the season, while the Seahawks now stand 6-4 and 0-1. The two clubs return to the venue on Tuesday to conclude the back-to-back series with a 1 p.m. tilt.

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Martin, who sat out Towson’s CAA opening loss to James Madison on Saturday, returned to the lineup and anchored four Tigers in double figures with 21 points. Sophomore forward Solomon Uyaelunmo added 14 points, while sophomore guard Jason Gibson and sophomore forward Charles Thompson chipped in 10 points each.

Junior guard Jaylen Sims paced the Seahawks in scoring for the fifth time this season with 19 points, including 13-of-16 at the free throw line. Senior guard Mike Okauru poured in a career-high 18 points and sophomore guard Jake Boggs contributed 14 points – 10 in the second half.

Towson, navigating a stretch of two games in three days, inched out to a 35-32 advantage at halftime and held the Seahawks at bay after intermission. UNCW shot just 31 percent in a sluggish first period and wound up at 35.1 percent for the day.

“Towson did a very good job of imposing their will on us,” said Takayo Siddle, UNCW’s first-year head coach. “They wanted it more. They were in desperation mode. They did some real good things. They imposed their will in the paint. You have to give credit to them.”

“We came out a little lethargic and not with the same pop I’m used to us having. We still had a chance to win the game. Towson did a good job of closing it out.

“They just didn’t fall for us today. I like my group. We’re fighting, but these conference games are precious. You can’t let these games slip away. Whoever wants it more is going to win the game and I thought Towson wanted it more than us.”

In the latest CAA opener for the Seahawks since joining the conference in 1984-85, UNCW struggled early offensively, misfiring on its first nine shots until a slam by Jake Boggs at the 13-minute mark scratched for the visitors. Neither team led by more than five points in a first half that saw five ties and eight lead changes.

The slippery Martin was the catalyst early on for the Tigers, scoring 11 points, as Towson went ahead at halftime, 35-32. Okauru, who entered the game with an 11.1 ppg average, led all scorers at the break with 13 points with five rebounds for the Seahawks.

After a pair of free throws by Sims knotted the score at 38-all with 17:35 remaining in the contest, the Tigers reeled off eight unanswered points for their largest lead of the contest, 46-38, at 15:06.

The Seahawks battled back and eventually took the lead, 69-68, when freshman guard Jahmari Harvey drained a three-pointer in the right corner with just under two minutes left to play. But Thompson, a 54.5 percent free throw shooter, sank 4-of-6 charity tosses in the final 95 seconds to propel the Tigers to the conference win.

The two teams battled to a 37-all draw in the final half, but the Tigers connected on 12-of-14 free throws down the stretch and scored 44 of their 72 points in the paint to claim the first game of the series.

The Seahawks now stand 14-23 all-time in conference debuts through the years and have lost four consecutive CAA openers.