The battle for first place in the Colonial Athletic Association looked like a rout as Hofstra ran up a 20-point first-half lead, but it turned into a war of attrition. North Carolina Wilmington wore down the Pride’s thin roster with a full-court press, and the fatigue showed at the end as the Seahawks pulled out a 70-67 victory when Denzel Ingram hit a right-wing three-pointer with 3.6 seconds left Thursday night at the Mack Sports Complex.
Hofstra star Juan’ya Green displayed his clutch gene by forcing a late turnover and hitting a step-back three from the corner to tie the score at 67 with 20 seconds to play. But Ingram, who made only six of 20 shots, hit from deep when it counted before the Pride’s Ameen Tanksley missed a desperation shot.
“It was a heck of a game, two heavyweights going toe-to-toe,” Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich said. “There were stretches where we played some of our best basketball. That 8-0 run they had to end the first half got them back in the game. I’m not sure we kept our composure the way we needed to down the stretch. We have to own that and make sure it motivates us.”
UNCW (17-5, 9-2 CAA) got 24 points from C.J. Bryce, 18 from Ingram, 13 from Chris Flemmings and 11 from Craig Ponder. After being held to 27.5 percent shooting in the first half (11-for-40), the Seahawks shot 56.3 percent in the second (18-for-32).
Green led Hofstra (16-7, 8-3) with 21 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and four blocks. Tanksley had 13 points and Rokas Gustys, who scored only one second-half point, had nine points, 21 rebounds, four assists and four blocks. That ended the big man’s streak of eight straight double-doubles.
As Mihalich suggested, the Pride played beautifully early, running up a 38-18 lead as Green and Gustys totaled 14 points, 18 rebounds, seven assists and seven blocked shots. But the Seahawks cut their deficit to 38-26 by halftime before Hofstra pushed its lead to 46-28 on Tanksley’s jumper.
That’s when the erosion process began as the Seahawks pressed every possession and sent Hofstra to the line for 25 second-half foul shots. They converted 19 but took a physical beating while shooting 18.2 percent (4-for-22) in the half. It underlined the lack of depth without forward Malik Nichols, who was lost for the season with a knee injury.
“Down the stretch, we just didn’t make good plays, had a couple turnovers and definitely didn’t get stops on defense,” Green said.
Pressed about the fatigue factor, he conceded, “Yeah, it could have been.”
Mihalich acknowledged UNCW’s defense, saying, “They take you out of your offense. We only scored 29 points in the second half . . . They make you work. It was a very physical game.”