Bryce leads UNC Wilmington to CAA title over Charleston
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — C.J. Bryce, Devontae Cacok and company were headed off to celebrate when UNC Wilmington coach Kevin Keatts reminded his jubilant players to take their box scores.
“That’s a championship stat sheet,” Keatts said. “Get used to that.”
They’re working on it.
Bryce scored 24 points, and UNC Wilmington clinched its second straight NCAA Tournament berth with a 78-69 victory over College of Charleston in the Colonial Athletic Association championship Monday night.
“We’re champions again,” Keatts said. “We’re going dancing.”
The Seahawks (29-5) grabbed control with an 18-5 run in the second half. Bryce sparked the decisive surge with a 3-pointer and finished it off with another long-range basket, making it 65-50 with 8:25 remaining.
College of Charleston closed to 76-69 on Evan Bailey’s 3-pointer with 17 seconds left, but it ran out of time for a comeback. The Cougars (25-9) dropped to 0-6 in conference tournament finals since they last made it to the NCAAs by winning the Southern Conference title in 1999.
Seahawk fans rushed the court to join the celebration when the buzzer sounded. Players jumped and shouted. “We’re not done yet,” Bryce told the crowd.
Cacok had 15 points and 14 rebounds for the Seahawks, who extended their single-season record with their 29th victory. It was Cacok’s 12th double-double of the season.
UNCW is 1-5 in its five previous NCAA tournaments, winning its first-round game in 2002 against No. 4 seed Southern California before falling in the next game to Indiana.
The Seahawks lost 93-85 to fourth-seeded Duke a year ago. Bryce had 16 in that game.
“This is definitely a confidence boost,” said Bryce, a sophomore named the tournament’s most outstanding player. “As long as we stay focused, we’ll be good.”
Keatts declined to address whether the Seahawks deserve a better NCAA seed than last year’s group. “But since last year’s (Duke) loss, we’ve only lost five games,” he said. “That’s hard to do.”
Denzel Ingram had 11 points for UNC Wilmington.
Joe Chealey had 21 points for the Cougars, and Jarrell Brantley finished with 20.
Chealey said the team will learn from the experience.
“We got a taste of what it’s like,” he said. “We’ll be back.”
THE BIG PICTURE
College of Charleston: Chealey has to make shots for the Cougars to succeed and he struggled early on. He couldn’t seem to get past the 6-foot-7 Cacok and 6-9 Chuck Ogbodo whenever he attempted to slash to the basket. Chealey was 7 for 19 from the field.
UNC Wilmington: The Seahawks shot 53 percent (28 for 53) from the field, helping make up for a lackluster 12-for-21 night for free throws.
Cacok made sure Keatts saw he had one of the team’s 16 assists. The sophomore forward is better known for his work down low grabbing rebounds.
After looking extra hard at the stat sheet, Keatts countered that Cacok also had a turnover. “So that wipes that (assist) out,” he said, laughing.
Cacok has 14 assists this season.
College of Charleston awaits a potential postseason bid.
UNC Wilmington will wait to see its NCAA Tournament seeding.
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