By Kevin Sweeney
It may have been the first game of the CAA season, but it was clear from the day the schedule was released how important the New Year’s Eve matchup between Towson and UNC-Wilmington would have a big impact on the rest of the CAA season.
UNCW, the clear preseason favorites, made a statement, going on the road and leading nearly the entire way to beat a Towson squad picked second in the CAA preseason poll by a 76-67 margin.
In a game of contrasting styles, it was the Seahawks who were able to set the tempo, establishing the pressing, up-and-down style that’s a staple of Rick Pitino disciple Kevin Keatts’ team. UNCW was able to 19 turnovers, scoring 17 points off those miscues in the game.
However, the Tigers were able to hang around all afternoon thanks to their significant size advantage, owning the glass to the tune of a +10 advantage on the boards. They also got an excellent contribution from their bench, including 18 points and 14 rebounds from John Davis. In a game in which the Tigers were -17 with star guard Mike Morsell on the floor, it was the Towson bench that kept them in it, totaling 29 bench points compared to just 9 from the Seahawk bench.
The game remained very tight throughout the first half, with neither team leading by more than five at any point during the opening period. Despite 13 first half turnovers by the Tigers, UNC-Wilmington could not take control, shooting just 34% from the field and just 3-15 from beyond the arc. Even with the cold shooting, the Seahawks went into halftime with a 32-31 lead.
The second half was when the Seahawks began to assert control. After William Adala Moto gave Towson the lead with a layup less than a minute into the half, UNCW went on a 13-4 lead to seize an 8 point lead. Towson continued to hang around, with and-ones on back-to-back possessions by Davis trimmed what had stretched to a double-digit deficit back down to 5 with 12:33 to go. However, the Seahawks began to heat up from downtown, and that spelled doom for the Tigers. Denzel Ingram who shot 1-7 from three in the first half, made four triples in the second half in route to 19 second-half points.
Ingram’s 22 points led the attack for the Seahawks, while center Devontae Cacok added 17 points and 8 rebounds. Davis’s aforementioned double-double paced the Tigers, while Morsell added 13 points.
UNC-Wilmington, now 12-2 on the season, returns home to open 2017 on Monday vs Elon. Towson, who falls to 8-6 with the loss, will travel to James Madison for a Monday matchup with the Dukes.