BUIES CREEK — Campbell basketball Kevin McGeehan coach spoke for nearly 14 minutes in his postgame press conference after Wednesday’s game against UNC Wilmington.
It’s a session that could easily have been condensed down to two simple words.
“They’re good,” McGeehan said of the Seahawks after they caught fire in the second half and rolled to a 96-75 victory against his Camels.
It’s a phrase he repeated over and over, at least a dozen times. And for good reason.
Even though the Camels succeeded in holding double-figure scorers Chris Flemings and Denzel Ingram well below their season averages and shot 54.5 percent for the game — including a blistering 14 for 20 in the second half — they still weren’t able to keep pace with their high octane opponent.
The Seahawks soared to their ninth win in 10 games on the strength of a full-court press that produced 21 points off 14 Campbell turnovers and revved the tempo up so high that at times, the pace resembled that of an extended layup line.
“I thought they did a really good job, especially in the second half, of making sure they made the game the way they wanted it,” McGeehan said. “It felt like we were at that end for a couple minutes straight as it was foul and a drive, foul and a drive. It’s really tough when you know the press is coming at you and they’re going to the line. … They’re good.”
As well as UNCW ended up playing, it took the better part of a half for it to get into full gear and start rolling. Showing some of the wear-and-tear of a long trip home from St. Bonaventure on Saturday and playing on the road for the sixth time in the last seven games, the Seahawks didn’t endear themselves to coach Kevin Keatts with their sluggish first half performance.
Even though they still went into halftime with a comfortable 41-32 lead, Keatts was anything but pleased with their play. And he let them hear about it.
“We came out slow. We came out flat,” said junior guard Jordon Talley. “We just didn’t come out in warmup like we were supposed to, but we heard what we needed to hear from Coach Keatts and we did what we needed to do. We came out there and finished the game.”
Despite the tongue lashing, the Seahawks led by only four at 52-48 with 15½ minutes remaining. That, however, is when UNCW finally turned it on and got off to the races. With guard C.J. Bryce and big man Devontae Cacok leading the way, the Seahawks fired off a 26-8 run over the next eight minutes that ended whatever hopes the Camels (5-5) had of pulling off the upset.
“I just told them we weren’t being aggressive enough,” Keatts said of his halftime speech. “I thought they guy that responded more than anybody was C.J. Bryce. When you look at it, the reason he responded was that he got to the line 11 times. “The game plan was if you’ve got great shots take them, but we settled too much for jump shots early instead of driving.”
Bryce went to the line 11 times and finished with a career-high 26 point. Cacok, who is shooting 79 percent from the floor for the season, added 18 points on 8 of 8 shooting — mostly dunks — to go along with 10 rebounds. They had plenty of help, as UNCW had seven players with nine or more points, including Flemmings and Ingram.
But as effective as the Seahawks were on the offensive end of the court, nearly matching Campbell’s high second half percentage by making 21 of their own shots on 34 attempts, it was defense that finally allowed them to put the game away for their first win in four tries at Gore Arena.
That might sound strange considering that the Camels made virtually every shot they took over the final 20 minutes. But the fact is they only attempted 14 of them during that time. And just three were taken by Chris Clemons.
The sophomore guard, who ranks fourth nationally in scoring at 24.0 points per game, was limited to five points in the second half and 18 overall as the Seahawks forced the ball out of his hands and wore him down by rotating several different defenders on him at all times.
Forward Shane Whitfield led Campbell with 25 points, including a 15 of 19 performance from the line.
“In the second half we wanted to do a great job of keeping the ball out of Clemons’ hands and when we did I think they struggled a little bit,” Keatts said. “A couple of times when he got the ball he really hurt us.”