UNCW playing motivated basketball after two-game CAA skid

Seahawks remain at the top of CAA despite dropping back-to-back games midway through the conference schedule

Christine T. Nguyen—The North State Journal
The UNCW Seahawks huddle during the game against Charleston Thursday

WILMINGTON, N.C. — When Chris Flemmings’ free throw fell short with .8 seconds remaining against College of Charleston, UNCW did something that had only happened once before in the Kevin Keatts era: it lost two straight CAA games.Instead of sulking, the Seahawks are making sure it doesn’t happen again.”We don’t like losing,” Denzel Ingram said. “… We come in with the mindset to step on their necks, play hard, play defense with shots flowing. Just play hard. That’s all we’re pretty much preaching.”The Seahawks haven’t just won both games since, they’ve torched their way through two straight opponents.Thursday night marked UNCW’s second straight victory by 15 or more points with an 88-73 win over James Madison. Granted, neither Delaware nor JMU are anywhere in the discussion for the CAA crown, but the rebound has certainly been a dominant one for the Hawks.While the offense is certainly there — UNCW’s 86.2 points per game ranks 10th in the country — it’s the defense that Keatts said has been the focal point. JMU scored 73 points, but was forced to start nearly every offensive set with 18 seconds or less on the shot clock after fighting UNCW’s full-court press.”In the last couple of games, I thought we had lost our focus in that aspect,” Keatts said of his team’s defense. “We were playing good basketball, but I didn’t think we were focusing in on what we have to do to be great. … We’ve done a great job on the offensive end, but I thought we were letting guys getting too much to their strengths. I think we’re back to taking away team’s strengths.”Lately the Seahawks are getting it done with a barrage of 3-pointers. Against Delaware, UNCW set a program-record 21 treys — also tied for a conference record. Keatts’ squad followed that up with 13 triples in a convincing win over James Madison.Keatts has constantly preached throughout his tenure that he doesn’t mind how his offense gets points as long as the players are taking smart shots. With the shots falling, Keatts isn’t shying away from the three ball anytime soon.”I thought we took one or two that were questionable, but for the most part we’re taking good shots,” Keatts said. “We’re making great passes and encouraging guys to step into shots. If they’ve got ’em, take ’em.”It’s been a team effort for the Seahawks from deep, too. Chris Flemmings, Jaylen Fornes and Ambrose Mosley combined to shoot 16 of 21 from deep for a 76.2 percent clip against Delaware. Denzel ingram then hit his first three triples against JMU to combine with Mosley for eight on the night.Just when you have one player stopped, the rest of the team picks him up. James Madison coach Louis Rowe said that’s what makes the Hawks a terrifying team to match up against.”These guys play like there’s an expectation of a guy making a play,” Rowe said. “[C.J.] Bryce just steps up and makes a play. [Denzel] Ingram just steps up and makes a play. [Chris] Flemmings just steps up. When a plays in front of them, they step up and make it.”When the moments are there and it’s time to make a play … they’re ballplayers. That’s what I like most about them.”The losses to William & Mary and Charleston were obviously setbacks, but they don’t mean much. Charleston, which was tied with UNCW entering Thursday, fell to second place in the Colonial with a loss to Northeastern, meaning the Seahawks claim sole possession of first place.But the mentality doesn’t change. With nearly one month left before the CAA Tournament, there is only one focus on the minds of every UNCW player.”Next game,” Bryce said. “That’s all we’re worried about.”