College of Charleston took the best team in the Colonial Athletic Association — UNC Wilmington — to the very limit and then some Saturday night at TD Arena.
But empty possession late in the game and poor free throw shooting ultimately doomed the Cougars.
UNC Wilmington’s Denzel Ingram scored 17 points, going a perfect 10 of 10 from the free throw line, and Craig Ponder added 15 points as the Seahawks defeated College of Charleston, 59-55, in overtime on Senior Night before a crowd of 3,629 at TD Arena.
It was a gritty, gutty, physical effort from the undermanned Cougars (16-10, 8-8 in CAA) who kept the Seahawks (21-6, 12-3) well under their scoring average of more than 81 points a game.
The Cougars came into the game with the CAA’s top scoring defense and did little to hurt their reputation or their statistical average.
“I thought Earl’s group played really hard and made us work for every point we got,” said UNC Wilmington coach Kevin Keatts. “We’re a team that’s used to scoring and give their guys credit, they played hard and they were tough and I think we got a little frustrated. I think a lot of people felt like they were coming to a basketball game and got a boxing match instead.”
The Cougars head into the final two games of the regular season needing to win at least one more game to secure a bye in next month’s CAA tournament. The top six teams in the league get a first-round bye for the tournament in Baltimore. The Cougars are currently in sixth place, but face seventh-place Northeastern Thursday night on the road.
“All the games are important and have been for a while,” said College of Charleston coach Earl Grant.
After trailing most of the game, the Cougars finally clawed their way back and took a 35-34 lead on Marquise Pointer’s three with 15:05 to play.
Over the final 10 minutes, the lead changed hands five times and was tied seven more times as the two teams exchanged baskets or free throws.
“It kind of magnified every possession down the stretch,” Grant said. “I thought the guys played their hearts out. With that type of effort and that type of energy to get back into the game, me and the staff really have to take the blame for that loss. We have to do a better job of helping them win that game after all the effort and character that they showed.”
Pointer, who led the Cougars with 16 points, knocked down another 3-pointer to give Charleston a 45-44 lead with 5:23 to play.
But the Seahawks responded as Jordan Talley hit a three of his own just 15 seconds later to put UNC Wilmington back on top, 47-45.
Cameron Johnson hit a layup and senior James Bourne drove hard to the basket and scored to give the Cougars their final lead of the night, 49-47, with 2:42 to play in regulation.
Wilmington’s Chris Flemmings answered with two free throws with 41.5 seconds to play to tie the game at 49-49.
Payton Hulsey was fouled going to the basket on the Cougars’ next possession and had two free throws with 18.7 seconds to play. Hulsey was eight of 11 on the night when he stepped to the free throw line in the final seconds. Hulsey missed both free throws. The Cougars as a team were just 17 of 29 (58.6 percent) from the free throw line.
“We like to pressure you all over the floor for 40 minutes and I think that kind of wore them down in the second half,” Keatts said. “They had a short bench already and I think fatigue was a factor late in the game with some turnovers and missed free throws.”
Flemmings shot at the buzzer from the top of the key was too strong and the game went into overtime.
It took the Cougars more than four minutes to finally score in the extra session as the Seahawks made eight of nine free throws in overtime.
Sophomore guard Evan Bailey left the game in the second half. Bailey was hit on the head during a scrum for a loose ball and spent most of the second half in the locker room.
Freshman Jarrell Brantley finished with 11 points and 15 rebounds as Hulsey chipped in 12 points and 11 rebounds.
“Payton and Jarrell played with a lot of energy,” Grant said. “It’s not very often you get two guys with double-doubles.”