Men’s Basketball Succumbs to Streak-Snapping Seahawks

By Matt Neiser

WILMINGTON, North Carolina — Fresh off a 15-point comeback win over CAA heavyweight Charleston, the Northeastern men’s basketball team was riding high as it made its way to Wilmington for a Saturday night matchup against the winless-in-conference UNCW Seahawks. The Seahawks pulled the Huskies back down to earth in Trask Coliseum, however, rallying from a 16-point deficit to take down the defending conference champs in overtime, 76–74.

Saturday’s game capped off an eventful week for UNCW (6–15, 1–7 CAA), which started with the Seahawks relieving head coach C.B. McGrath of his duties on Monday. The team went on to lose by just two to heavyweight Hofstra on Thursday, and finished with the victory against Northeastern (10–9, 4–3 CAA), their first in almost two months.

The two sides battled throughout the first half, with neither team pulling away by a substantial margin. The Seahawks took a 20–18 lead at the 6:16 mark, but a 17–8 run gave the Huskies a 35-28 advantage heading into the locker room.

UNCW held the Huskies within range coming out of the break, but a 13-point unanswered run by the visitors partway through the second half brought the deficit to a game-high 16 points with 10 minutes remaining.

The Northeastern lead seemed insurmountable for the Seahawks, but slowly and surely they forced their way back into the game. Ten points from Brian Tolefree and a six-point burst from Ty Gadsden helped drag UNCW back from the depths as they took a two-point lead. Back-to-back jumpers from Jordan Roland with a Seahawk turnover sandwiched in between re-established the Husky lead, but a Mike Okauru dunk with 2.5 seconds left evened the game. Jordan Roland’s half-court effort came close but clanged off the rim, sending the game to overtime.

The Huskies jumped out to a quick four-point lead to start the extra frame, but missed free throws from Myles Franklin and Tyson Walker left the door open. UNCW burst through that door, scoring eight unanswered as Northeastern went on a three-and-a-half-minute drought. The Huskies were forced to play the foul game, and a pair of missed free throws from Jaylen Sims a few possessions later gave Northeastern a chance to respond, down two points, with 11 seconds remaining.

Roland stepped on the sideline with less than three ticks on the clock, but Franklin forced the ball off of Marten Linssen’s leg with .6 seconds left. The ensuing inbounds play found Roland in the corner with a chance to win, but he couldn’t get the shot off in time as the Seahawks came away with the victory.

“I thought UNCW played harder than we did tonight and they earned the victory,” said Northeastern head coach Bill Coen. “The team that plays harder usually wins. There isn’t that much talent separation in this league where if you come in and you’re playing at a six or a seven and the other team is playing at a nine or a ten that you can feel comfortable.”

Interim head coach Rob Burke took over head coaching duties from McGrath, injecting some much-needed energy into his squad. Burke was animated throughout the game, imploring the crowd to get loud and slamming his hand repeatedly on the floor as his team fought their way back. The Trask crowd responded in kind, giving the Seahawks the extra oomph needed to pull off the victory.

“It’s always a very supportive fan base,” Coen said. “They’re worth five points with the energy they bring to the building.”

Four players recorded double-digit scoring for the Seahawks, led by Tolefree’s 17 and Okauru’s 16. The latter recorded a double-double and even came close to a triple-double, adding 10 rebounds and six assists.

Roland did everything he could to keep his team in the game, logging 38 points (the most in the 43-year history of Trask Coliseum) and a career-high seven rebounds.

Walker chipped in 17, and Max Boursiquot and Greg Eboigbodin pulled down nine and seven rebounds, respectively.

Northeastern will look to rebound on Thursday at home against Drexel. Mike Petillo and Adam Doucette will have coverage of that one starting at 6:45 PM EST.

CAA Preview: UNCW Seahawks

Head Coach: C.B. McGrath (third season)

Last Season: 10–23 (5–13), tenth place CAA, lost in CAA semifinal

CAA Preseason Poll Finish: Ninth

Losses

  • G Ty Taylor II
  • G Jaylen Fornes
  • G Jacque Brown
  • F Devontae Cacok
  • F Jeantal Cylla
  • F Shawn O’Connell

Additions

  • G Mike Okauru
  • G Shykeim Phillips
  • G/F Carter Skaggs
  • G/F Jake Boggs
  • F Imajae Dodd

By Christian Skroce

After a trip to the CAA semifinals in C.B. McGrath’s first year as head coach, UNCW looked to build upon their success in 2018–19. Projected to finish fifth in the conference, the Seahawks had the makings of a CAA dark horse. But looks can be deceiving.

UNCW had one of their worst seasons in recent memory, finishing dead last in the CAA regular season standings. In an attempt to show their season wasn’t a total disaster, the Seahawks pulled off a tournament win against seventh-seeded Elon before fizzling out in the quarterfinals with a 80–59 drubbing from Northeastern. For a once-top-tier team in the CAA, there were far more questions than answers, and the bad news continued during the offseason.

While everyone knew the day would come, it was still difficult for many to say goodbye to senior forward Devontae Cacok. The talented forward and fan-favorite had become the face of the program, and UNCW will have to adjust to life without Cacok on and off the court.

Cacok went undrafted but signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the Los Angeles Lakers in June. Though the team cut him in October before the start of the regular season, his performance in Summer League and preseason was outstanding. He is now on the training roster for the South Bay Lakers, the team’s G-League affiliate.

Three other offseason losses for the Seahawks came as a complete surprise. On the same day, junior guards Jaylen Fornes and Ty Taylor II both announced they would be transferring from UNCW. Although neither were elite players, they provided valuable bench minutes and would have contributed a veteran presence for a team now missing their leader.

But the offseason’s biggest shock came a few days later, when junior forward Jeantal Cylla announced he would be transferring — he eventually landed at the University of Arkansas. Cylla was a key player for the Seahawks last season, averaging 13.7 points and 4.6 rebounds as part of the formidable frontcourt with Cacok.

Despite the losses, the offseason was not all doom and gloom. The Seahawks are bringing in two transfer guards: grad Carter Skaggs from Washington State and junior Mike Okauru from Florida. Both players provide much-needed experience for a team losing several leaders.

Skaggs enjoyed a nice two-year career at Washington State, averaging 7.2 points in 56 career games. Okauru will be the more interesting of the two, as he never quite found his groove at Florida, averaging just 2.6 points in 69 career games. Despite his poor numbers, Okauru has the talent and athleticism to succeed alongside returning point guard Kai Toews, who averaged an astonishing 7.7 assists during this freshman campaign.

Junior guard Ty Gadsden averaged 12 ppg last year on a ridiculous 48 percent from three. He will likely miss the first month of the season after surgery on both hips and for a sports hernia, per Brian Mull.

Joining Okauru and Skaggs this season is a solid freshman class. Among the newcomers are forwards Imajae Dodd and Jake Boggs and guard Shykeim Phillips. While Phillips’ minutes will likely be limited, the Seahawks are likely to ask a lot from Dodd and Boggs. The duo, along with returning forwards John Bowen and Martin Linssen, look to fill the massive shoes left by Cacok and Cylla.

Rebounding is another concern. Cacok pulled down a CAA-best 12.3 boards per contest last year and was the nation’s top rebounder the year before. Cylla, at 4.6 rebounds a night, was second on the team. Without them, the rebounding will likely be done by committee.

Bottom Line: Expectations are low for the Seahawks this season, as they probably can’t replace Cacok and Cylla in one year. Gadsden and Toews bring intelligence and athleticism to the backcourt, but if the newcomers can’t pick up the pace on the boards, it’ll be a long season for the Seahawks.