WILMINGTON, North Carolina –Colonial Athletic Association frontrunner College of Charleston dipped into its usual recipe for success – a balanced scoring attack with timely baskets – to turn back upset-minded UNCW, 88-74, in the men’s basketball home finale for the Seahawks on Saturday night at Trask Coliseum.
Charleston raised its record to 22-6 overall and 13-3 in the conference and maintained a one-game lead in the CAA standings over Northeastern. The Seahawks are 9-19 and 6-10 heading into a two-game road trip to close out the regular season.
UNCW travels to William & Mary on Thursday (Feb. 22) and Drexel on Saturday (Feb. 24) before defending its back-to-back conference titles in the CAA Tournament March 2-5 at the North Charleston Coliseum. UNCW is tied for sixth place in the win column with Elon.
In Saturday’s hard-earned win over the Seahawks, the Cougars shot 68 percent and scored 48 points in the paint to record their first regular season series sweep of their conference rivals.
“They’re just really darn good,” C.B. McGrath, UNCW’s first-year head coach, said of the Cougars. “I’m proud of our guys. We just kept competing. We ran out of gas and they made the plays. They’re athletic, long and physical. We didn’t make the shots when we had them and they did.”
Charleston’s dynamic 1-2 punch of sophomore guard Grant Riller and junior forward Jarrell Brantley did most of the damage for the Cougars, combining for 51 of the team’s 88 points. Riller went 11-of-14 from the field en route to 28 points and Brantley finished with 23 on 8-of-11 shooting. Senior guard Joe Chealey chipped in 15 points and senior guard Cameron Johnson had 10.
Junior forward Devontae Cacok was a force again inside for the Seahawks, pouring in a game-high 29 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. The nation’s leading rebounder racked up his league-leading 19th double-double of the season and became the 25th player in UNCW history to score 1,000 points with his first bucket of the game – ironically a monster dunk by the school’s all-time leading in slams.
After inching out to a 39-33 edge in the first 20 minutes, the Cougars traded buckets with the Seahawks for the first five minutes of the final period before pulling away with an 11-point spurt around the seven-minute mark.
A tip-in and two free throws by Cacok brought the Seahawks even at 57-all with 10:26 left to play, but Johnson swished a jumper on the right baseline at 9:27 to give the Cougars the lead for good.
Charleston was still in front, 66-62, when the Cougars finally got the breathing room they needed with the big surge. Riller started the rally with a triple on the left side at 6:42 and Johnson converted both ends of a bonus situation with just over five minutes remaining to extend the lead to 74-62.
The Cougars registered their largest lead of the game, 86-70, when reserve guard Marquise Pointer sank two free throws with 35 seconds on the clock.
Brantley carried the Cougars early, exploding for the club’s first 11 points on a variety of baskets. He drained a long triple from the top of the key to stake CofC to an 11-6 advantage with 15:01 left in the first half.
CofC still led, 13-12, when the Cougars reeled off six straight points, capped by a Riller put back for a 19-12 cushion at 11:40.
But the Seahawks answered with an 8-0 spurt to stay close, 20-19, on a driving layup by Jaylen Fornes with 8:21 left in the opening period.
With Chealey and Riller as the catalysts, the Cougars then used an 11-4 run to forge ahead. Chealey scored on a driving layup over Talley with just over four minutes remaining in the half and CofC, which shot 65.4 percent in the first 20 minutes, extended its margin to 32-24.
The margin swelled to 39-27 – the largest difference in the first half – on a Brantley three-pointer on the left wing before the Seahawks scored the final six points of the first half to close the gap to 39-33 at intermission.
GAME NOTES: Seahawk seniors Marcus Bryan, Nick Powel and Jordon Talley were honored during a pre-game ceremony…UNCW finished the 13-game home schedule drawing 55,442 fans, averaging 4,265 fans per game…The series is now tied at 13-all…UNCW stands 9-4 against CofC since the Cougars joined the CAA in 2014-15…The Cougars have taken three of the last four games between the two clubs…Charleston has won two straight in Wilmington…The teams battled to a 30-all draw on the glass…Senior playmaker Jordon Talley dished out six assists in his final home appearance…The Seahawks went a frosty 4-for-22 behind the arc…UNCW built a 15-5 advantage on the offensive boards…Devontae Cacok has pulled down at least 15 rebounds on 19 occasions during his three-year career.