UNCW takes Drexels best shot, continues its winning ways

Chris Flemmings scored 17 points and Devontae Cacok pulled down a school-record 24 rebounds for an 87-74 win that improves the Seahawks to 19-2 overall (8-0 in the CAA)

John Crouch—UNCW Athletic Communications photo
Sophomore center Devontae Cacok set a school-record by pulling down 24 rebounds Saturday in UNC Wilmington's 87-74 win against Drexel at Trask Coliseum.

WILMINGTON — With votes in both major college basketball polls this week, the UNC Wilmington basketball team is starting to open some eyes nationally. The only thing unusual about that is the scope of the attention the Seahawks have been getting. Coming off a conference championship and with the best start in school history being rewritten with each successive win, coach Kevin Keatts’ team is used to being the spotlight every time it takes the court against a Colonial Athletic Association opponent. And to this point, it seems to be thriving off the scrutiny. Even on an afternoon in which the Seahawks clearly weren’t at their best, they still found ways to hold off, then pull away from a conference opponent intent on knocking off their perch — getting 17 points from Chris Flemmings and a school-record 24 rebounds from Devontae Cacok for an 87-74 win against Drexel at Trask Coliseum. The victory was UNCW’s eighth straight to start the CAA schedule and 19th in 21 games overall as it continues to strengthen its case for a second straight NCAA tournament bid. “When you play in conference and get off to a great start as we have, you’re going to get everybody’s best shot,” Keatts said. “I told our guys that they’ve got to do a good job of not worrying about the name on the front of the (opponent’s) jersey and just go out and play. “I didn’t think we played particularly great as far as shooting the ball tonight, but you’ve got to find a way to win and I thought our defense did a great job winning the game.” Despite its 7-13 (1-6 CAA) record, Drexel presented something of a different challenge for the Seahawks in that the teams have already played one another once this season, with UNCW winning 90-72 in Philadelphia on Jan. 5. The Dragons were clearly better prepared for Keatts’ trademark fullcourt pressure, turning the ball over only four times in the first half while shooting a solid 50 percent from the floor to stay within three at the break. The Seahawks contributed to their own early misfortune by making just two of their first 12 3-pointers on the way to a 9 of 34 performance from beyond the arc. They were also a frigid 10 of 22 from the free throw line for the game. Even Cacok, who came into the game making 81 percent of his shots, missed three times. UNCW compensated for their uncharacteristic shooting woes by holding Drexel to 41.4 percent from the floor in the second half while forcing eight of the Dragons’ 12 turnovers. Those two factors, combined with Cacok’s dominance on the boards, finally allowed the Seahawks to establish their preferred fast pace and break the game open with a decisive 12-0 run five minutes into the second half. “Was it shock and awe? Not totally,” Drexel coach Zach Spiker said of the Seahawks’ defensive effort. “But there’s a weardown effect and I thought we did get a little fatigued.” Given the way UNCW plays, Flemmings said it was only a matter of time before that happened and he and his teammates could start to take advantage. Flemmings was one of five Seahawks to score in double figures, with Denzel Ingram adding 13 points, Cacok 12, Ambrose Mosley 11 and C.J. Bryce 10. “We got shots we usually make all the time, so it was just a matter of staying confident and not trying to force anything,” Flemmings said. “We weren’t worried about it too much. We relied on our defense to get us going.” That and Cacok. The 6-foot-7, 240-pound sophomore picked up 11 rebounds on the offensive end to help his team build a 22-8 advantage on second-chance points. He added 13 defensive boards to break the school record of 21 and the CAA mark of 22 against a conference opponent. “I went out there and tried to get every rebound,” said Cacok, who said he wasn’t aware of his records he was chasing until after the game. “It was just a good game for me, that’s about it.” It was a good game all the way around for the Seahawks as far as their coach was concerned, especially considering the circumstances. “Saturday games in this league are always going to be tough because you’ve got such a quick turnaround,” Keatts said, referring to the fact that CAA games are also played on Thursdays. UNCW won at College of Charleston to take over sole possession of the league lead just 48 hours before playing Drexel. “I’m excited about this team. We’re going to take a couple of days off because its been a long week, then we’ll start preparing for (next opponent) James Madison.” Because as the Seahawks are only too aware, all eyes will be on t