There won’t be an undeserving team coming out of the Colonial Athletic Association. All four top seeds played to their strengths during the quarterfinals in Charleston and advance to the third day of play.
Highlighted by two nail-biters, one dominant offensive display and one suffocating defensive performance, Saturday’s games were just a taste of what’s to come in the semifinals.
UNC Wilmington 91, Delaware 82
Playing in one of the two “play-in” games on Friday, Delaware pulled off the first upset of the CAA Tournament when it knocked off a red-hot Hofstra team. Less than 24 hours later, the Blue Hens had to square off against top-seeded UNCW.
Looking like a team still loose from the previous game, Delaware kept pace with the Seahawks early with some smart navigation of UNCW’s pressure defense. The Blue Hens, led by Rookie of the Year Ryan Daly, made smart reads and cuts to the basket in the halfcourt. Daly had 14 points in the first half as Delaware got to within one point of the regular season champs with about six minutes to go in the first.
But UNCW’s Louisville-inspired defense can wear down opponents, and the Seahawks capitalized as Delaware started showing its fatigue. Devontae Cacok, who leads the country in field goal percentage, padded his stats with 13 points on six shots. His inside threat was balanced by All-CAA guards C.J. Bryce and Chris Flemmings combining for 31 points as UNCW ran away in the second half.
William & Mary 71, Elon 66
Hosting two of the league’s best offensive teams, game two lived up to its billing, and then some. William & Mary’s Forgotten Five status is well-documented, but with two All-League senior guards in Daniel Dixon in Omar Prewitt, the Tribe may finally have the experience and firepower to get over the hump. Prewitt got going early against Elon, scoring 11 of the Tribe’s first 16 points as they jumped out to an early lead.
Elon, which led the CAA in three point makes this season, started just one for 12 from behind the arc. Tyler Seibring, Elon’s talented forward, was in early foul trouble but got a big bailout from fellow big man Brian Dawkins. Led by Dawkins’ backbreaking shots and toughness, Elon surged ahead. The Phoenix hit eight of their next 12 three’s during a run that stretched into the second half. By that time, Seibring and sophomore sharpshooter Steven Santa Ana had found their groove.
W&M would’ve been in a deficit larger than six points had it not been for the boost it got off the bench. Sophomore Paul Rowley came off the pine and hit a pair of treys to keep the Tribe afloat. Down 60-54 with five minutes to play, W&M’s seniors took over. Dixon and Prewitt scored the final nine points of the game during a decisive push to each hit the 20-point mark. Elon was held without a field goal until a meaningless three with two seconds to play. The Tribe will face UNCW in the semifinals.
College of Charleston 67, James Madison 62
The first evening game lacked the same offensive polish as the morning contests, but ranked just as high on the drama scale. Charleston and JMU are defense-first teams that have no problem delivering body blows for 40 minutes.
The Dukes are one of the most experienced teams in the country, playing six seniors in their rotation. That was their biggest advantage over Charleston - a top seed that did not have a single senior appear in this game. Each time it looked like the Cougars would pull away, JMU’s Shakir Brown or Tom Vodanovich would make a play like they didn’t want their college careers to end. The Dukes hung around all night, staying within two possessions before finally tying the game at 56 with 4:05 to play.
Sophomore forward Jarrell Brantley and junior guard Joe Chealey carried Charleston for much of the contest, as they have throughout the season, but were well-defended in crunch time. That’s when secondary options Grant Riller and Cam Johnson made the plays to avoid an upset. Riller hit a three and Johnson sank a floater in the lane to give CofC a slim lead. After some free throws from both teams, JMU had the ball down three with eight seconds to play. Shakir Brown hoisted a contested jumper that hit the back of the rim. Charleston survived and advanced.
Towson 82, Northeastern 54
The Towson Tigers have the identity of a team you don’t want to face in March. Pat Skerry’s team is big, physical and a dominant force on the glass. They may not shoot the lights out, but in the unfamiliar confines of a neutral site they are a handful with their relentless offensive putbacks and paint defense.
Even with Player of the Year T.J. Williams, Northeastern ran into a buzzsaw. The Tigers got their offense going early and let their defense do the rest. They shot over 53 percent from the field for the game, including 7-of-15 from deep, and went up double digits just 15 minutes into the game.
The Huskies have had a lot of inconsistent lineups this year with the injuries, and they looked out of sync as players nursing ailments rallied to play in the postseason. The combination of shaky offense plus Towson’s aggressive defense resulted in no Husky hitting more than three field goals. Williams finished with 15 points on 16 shots.
Towson used eleven players and held Northeastern to the lowest point total of the day. The Tigers will play Charleston in the semifinals.