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UNC Wilmington, Towson claw their way to top of Colonial

The preseason eighth- and ninth-ranked teams in the CAA sit atop the standings heading into the homestretch

Towson’s Nicolas Timberlake
Towson sits in second place in the Colonial Athletic Association standings. Nicolas Timberlake is averaging 13.7 points per game for the Tigers.
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK / USA TODAY NETWORK

The biggest matchup of the regular season in the Colonial Athletic Association will take place on tonight when the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks host the Towson Tigers. The Seahawks have a 1.5-game lead over the Tigers, so this bout will either cement the Seahawks atop the standings or will make for a wild final few weeks.

UNC-Wilmington (18-7, 12-2 Colonial) and Towson (19-7, 10-3 Colonial) have come out of nowhere this season.

Picked ninth (out of 10 schools), UNC-Wilmington is the biggest surprise in the conference, The Seahawks have won 14 of their last 16 contests. After taking the conference by storm with their 9-0 start in CAA play, they lost two games in a three-game span, falling to Elon on the road and dropping a two-point contest at Hofstra.

In conference play, they are averaging 75.9 points per game, which trails only Hofstra.

Jaylen Sims paces the Seahawks’ offense and is fourth in the CAA in scoring at 15.3 points per contest. Shykeim Phillips paces the defense with 1.7 steals a night, good for third in the conference. Sims piloted the Seahawks’ offense with 26 points and Phillips scored 11 of his 24 points in overtime to lead UNC-Wilmington to an 80-73 victory over William & Mary on Monday.

Towson has also been a surprise team this season. The Tigers were tabbed to finish eighth in the CAA but currently sit in second place.

The Tigers’ conference success is thanks in part to guards Cameron Holden and Nicolas Timberlake. Holden, a transfer from UT-Martin, leads their offense with 13.9 points per game with Thompson close behind at 13.7. Cameron Thompson is second in the CAA in rebounding at 8.0 boards per contest.

Pat Skerry’s group has tallied wins in five of its last six contests with the lone loss being Northeastern’s only conference win. The Tigers’ last outing (an 86-50 win over Elon) marked Towson’s largest victory over a Division-I opponent since 1992.

The Hofstra Pride sits just a half game behind the Tigers. The Pride improved to 10-4 in conference play. It boasts the CAA’s No. 1 offense at 76.7 points per game.

The Pride extended its win streak to five games on Tuesday with a dominant 97-64 road victory over Elon. Omar Silverio poured in a career-high 40 points off the bench. He drained 11 3-pointers.

Aaron Estrada leads the Colonial in scoring with 18.7 points per game. The Woodbury, N.J., native sits in second in the conference in both field-goal percentage (49%) and in assists (4.9).

Hofstra will close out its regular-season schedule with four straight home contests, two of which will be against Northeastern and William & Mary, the bottom two teams in the Colonial. With a favorable schedule down the stretch, Hofstra has the ability to threaten both Towson and UNCW.

The Delaware Blue Hens are next in the conference standings. The preseason favorite is 8-5 in conference play and 17-9 overall and currently ranks fourth. Jameer Nelson Jr., son of the former Orlando Magic guard, powers the Delaware offense in conference play with 13.7 points per game. Junior Ebby Asamoah has been lethal from long range in conference play. He leads the CAA in 3-point field goal percentage at 50%.

Both the Drexel Dragons (12-12, 7-7 Colonial) and the College of Charleston Cougars (14-10, 6-6 Colonial) are currently at .500 in conference play. Drexel is propelled by CAA Preseason Player of the Year Camren Wynter, who leads the team and ranks third in the Colonial in scoring at 15.5 points per game. College of Charleston’s John Meeks guides the team with 15.1 points per game, which ranks fifth in the CAA. Guard Reyne Smith sits second in the country in free throw percentage at 93.9%.

The bottom four teams in the Colonial sit below .500 in conference play: Elon and James Madison are currently 5-9 in CAA play, William & Mary is close behind at 4-10, and Northeastern ranks last with a 1-13 record.