TOWSON, Maryland – The UNCW men’s basketball team parlayed a stellar defensive effort to its first conference road sweep since late in 2016-17 with a 67-61 decision over Towson early Saturday in the final leg of a two-game Colonial Athletic Association swing to Virginia and Maryland.
The Seahawks, making their sixth appearance at SECU Arena, won their second in a row to improve to 6-10 overall and 2-1 in the CAA. The Tigers dropped their third straight home game and fell to 5-11 and 1-3 in the circuit.
Sophomore guard Jay Estime’ anchored four Seahawks in double figures with 13 points, including three crucial free throws in the final 43 seconds to secure the win. Junior guard Jaylen Fornes added 13 points, senior forward Devontae Cacok chipped in 10 points and 11 rebounds and graduate forward Shawn O’Connell contributed a career-high 10 points.
Junior forward Brian Fobbs paced Towson with a game-high 17 points, while freshman forward Solomon Uyaelunmo and junior guard Tobias Howard scored 11 markers each and redshirt junior forward Nakye Sanders collected 10 points.
Playing on the same date as one year ago, the two top rebounding teams in the CAA went head-to-head in a game that was controlled by the Seahawks from start to finish. UNCW led by as many as 12 points before the matinee crowd of 1,258 on the campus near Baltimore.
The surging Seahawks set the tone early by scoring the first 10 points of the game and the Tigers could get no closer than four points the rest of the way.
After Towson staged a comeback midway in the second period to slice the lead to five points, the Seahawks extended the margin back to 10 points on a timely three-pointer by Estime’ in the left corner with 2:20 remaining to give UNCW a 62-52 advantage.
Fobbs caught fire down the stretch, however, and helped the Tigers close within four points, 65-61, until Estime’ sealed the game with a pair of free throws with 14 seconds to go.
The Seahawks got off to a torrid start, reeling off the first 10 points of the contest before Towson could get untracked. Estime’ opened the game with a three-ball from the left wing and Jeantal Cylla added a jumper at the 16:23 mark for a fast 10-0 margin. Cylla scored all of his points in the first half.
Towson cut into the lead and managed to narrow the deficit to 15-13 on a Howard triple from the top of the key with 12:21 left in the opening period.
But Cylla, who led all scorers with nine first-half points, responded with another jumper on the left baseline to push the margin back to six points and the Seahawks later matched their largest lead of the half, 34-24, after O’Connell tipped in a shot with 3:19 on the clock in the first half.
The Seahawks played great team basketball in the first 20 minutes with 13 assists on 15 buckets, topped by 10 helpers from freshman point guard Kai Toews, who ranks fourth in the NCAA Division I ranks in assists per game.
DELAYED START: The tip was delayed 15 minutes due to a malfunction on the goal nearest the Seahawk bench.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS: The Seahawks’ much-improved defense held the Tigers to 36.5 percent shooting and just 4-of-16 from deep.
KEY MOMENT: With just under six minutes remaining and Towson staging a comeback, Shawn O’Connell banked the ball home inside to get the lead to 53-46 at the 6:17 mark.
ASSIST UPDATE: Freshman playmaker Kai Toews dished out 12 assists, including 10 in the first half, to reach double digits in dimes for the sixth time this season.
SERIES UPDATE: The Seahawks stand 24-15 all-time against the Tigers, including 9-11 at Towson and 3-3 at SECU Arena.
QUOTABLE: “All of the guys played their hearts out. With the double overtime game and travel, they’re tired. They outrebounded us, but we really fought. We’re making strides defensively. Our defense has been a lot better the last two games and our guys are starting to trust each other and know their teammates are going to be in the position they need to be in. It was a road victory. It wasn’t pretty, but we gutted it out.”
NEXT UP: The Seahawks return to Trask Coliseum for six of their next eight games, beginning on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, with a 7 p.m. tilt against Delaware’s Blue Hens.