HEMPSTEAD, New York – Junior guard Denzel Ingram’s three-pointer on the right wing with four seconds remaining completed a stunning comeback as UNCW took over sole possession of first place in the Colonial Athletic Association standings with a wild 70-67 men’s basketball victory over Hofstra on Thursday night at the Mack Sports Complex.
The Seahawks matched their longest winning streak since 2005-06 by claiming their eighth consecutive win and improved to 17-5 overall and 9-2 in the CAA. The Pride had its four-game winning streak snapped and stand 16-7 and 8-3.
Freshman guard C.J. Bryce, a three-time CAA Rookie-of-the-Week selection, matched his career high with 24 points and bucketed 19 in the second half as UNCW rallied from a 20-point deficit to shock the Pride. Ingram added 18 points, Chris Flemmings chipped in 13 and Craig Ponder scored 11 for the Seahawks, who haven’t lost in 25 days.
Senior guard Juan’ya Green paced the Pride with 21 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Backcourt mate Ameen Tanksley added 13 points and sophomore center Rokas Gustys had nine points and 21 rebounds.
“It was electric,” said a drained UNCW skipper Kevin Keatts following the dramatic finish. “We talked about it at halftime – we wanted to keep getting after it. We had a great defensive effort in the second half.”
UNCW trailed by as many as 20 points in the contest and finally took the lead for good, 63-62, on a layup by Bryce with 3:15 remaining. A jumper from the free throw line extended by Ingram then gave the Seahawks a 65-62 advantage at 2:31.
UNCW was still out front, 67-63, when Green sank a free throw with just over a minute to play and the Pride came up with a loose ball and pitched the ball to Green, who canned a stepback trey from the left corner to knot the score at 67-all with 20 seconds on the clock, setting up an intense ending.
The Seahawks inbounded the ball to Ingram and the junior transfer worked the clock down before launching the game-winner near the Seahawk bench, silencing the crowd of 2,057 on Long Island.
Keatts said: “We wanted Denzel to come off a ball screen. Denzel’s competitive and he wanted to make the big play, and I knew he would.”
The Seahawks used a tremendous defensive effort in the second half to win round one in the first of two meetings between the two CAA heavyweights. UNCW held Hofstra to 18.2 percent shooting on just 4-of-22 from the field after intermission.
UNCW, meanwhile, went inside often after the break behind Bryce, the silky-smooth freshman who sank 11-of-17 shots, including 9-of-12 in the final period. Bryce scored 10 of his points in the final 11 minutes as the Seahawks made their charge.
“C.J.’s playing with a lot of confidence,” added Keatts. “He made some critical plays when we were making our run. I keep telling him that he’s actually closer to being a sophomore now than being a freshman.”
Trailing 38-26 at halftime, the Seahawks made several runs early in the second half before finally overtaking the Pride. UNCW used an 11-1 spurt to climb within 56-52 on a Ponder tip-in, but the Pride built the lead back to eight points on free throws by Green and Denton Koon.
The Pride, picked to finish first in the CAA in the league’s preseason poll, jumped out to a working margin in the first half before the Seahawks rallied down the stretch.
Hofstra led four minutes into the contest, 5-4, and reeled off 10 unanswered points to gain early separation from the Seahawks. Gustys did most of the damage for the Pride and Desure Buie’s jumper at the free throw line gave Hofstra a 15-4 cushion at 11:18.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, were ice cold from the field and the Pride raised the advantage to 20 points before UNCW knocked down the deficit in the closing minutes of the opening period.
A three-pointer by Tanksley in the right corner gave Hofstra a 38-18 lead with 2:24 left in the first half, but the Seahawks scored the final eight points of the period, punctuated by an alley oop dunk to Flemmings, to close the gap to 38-26 at intermission.
UNCW finished the first half shooting just 27.5 percent from the field on 11-of-40 shooting, including 1-of-5 behind the arc. Flemmings led all scorers in the first 20 minutes with 10 points.
The Seahawks complete their two-game swing to the Northeast on Saturday when they take on Northeastern at 7 p.m. in Boston. The Pride travels to Harrisonburg, Va., on Sunday for a 3 p.m. tip-off against James Madison.