Nassau, The Bahamas – UNCW erased an early deficit and called on its trademark stifling defense to rally past North Texas, 55-51, in the championship game of the Baha Mar Nassau Championship late Sunday at the Baha Mar Convention Center.
The Seahawks raised their record to 5-3 on the young season and won their 13th in-season tournament title in program’s history. Coupled with the championship of the Asheville Mako Medical Classic in 2021-22, it was Head Coach Takayo Siddle’s second in-season title in three seasons.
North Texas, 5-2, had a five-game winning streak snapped after defeating San Jose State and Long Beach State in the quarterfinals and semifinals and falling to the Seahawks in the finals.
Sophomore guard Jamarii Thomas led three Seahawks in double figures with 16 points and also grabbed four rebounds. Senior forward Amari Kelly chipped in 12 points and seven boards and junior guard Donovan Newby contributed 11 points off the bench.
Senior guard Tylor Perry paced a trio of North Texas players in double figures with 17 points. Senior guard Kai Huntsberry added 15 points and junior guard Rubin Jones collected 10.
Sophomore guard Trazarien White was named Tournament MVP after scoring 33 points and grabbing 18 rebounds in the three wins. Thomas was also named to the All-Tournament team after scoring 31 points with nine boards during the tournament.
“Each day in the tournament, we got better,” said Siddle. “Our guys adjusted every day and executed the game plan each night out.
“Tonight was special. Going into the game, we were the underdogs. They have a good basketball team and we have a lot of respect for them. Our guys completely took them out of their rhythm. The tempo was in our favor. Our guys never wavered. This was the first complete game we’ve played this year.”
The Seahawks trailed early, but bounced back for a 28-23 edge at intermission. UNCW then used a suffocating defense down the stretch, limiting North Texas to just four field goals over the final six minutes, to nail down the win. UNCW forced 17 turnovers and scored 20 points off those North Texas miscues.
With the game knotted at 38-all and seven minutes on the clock, White gave the Seahawks the lead for good with a bucket in traffic and Newby followed with a trey along the right wing. Thomas then connected on a floater to give UNCW a 45-38 advantage with 2:49 left.
The spurt was part of a 13-3 run that lifted the Seahawks to the exhilarating victory. UNCW’s largest lead of the contest, 51-41, came with 48 seconds left when Thomas converted a spinning shot on the left side.
The first half was a defensive battle between the two unbeaten clubs in the eight-team tourney. UNCW forced nine North Texas turnovers and scored 11 points off those miscues.
North Texas scored the first five points of the game before senior guard Shykeim Philips got the Seahawks on the board with a jumper on the left wing with 18:16 left.
The Mean Green maintained control over the first 15 minutes of the opening period. Aaron Scott found himself all alone for a layup with 5:22 on the clock to give North Texas its largest lead of the half, 20-14.
But North Texas hit a cold spell from the floor, going 2-for-12 during a four-minute stretch, and the Seahawks jumped on the Mean Green. Spurred by Kelly, UNCW outscored North Texas, 9-2, over the final 3:22 and snagged a 28-23 edge into intermission when Newby sank three free throws with one second on the clock.
Thomas was the catalyst for the Seahawks in the opening period, scoring 10 points and grabbing four rebounds.
The Seahawks return to the North Carolina coast briefly before playing again on Wednesday night at Coastal Carolina. Tipoff is 7:30 p.m. from the HTC Center in Conway, S.C.
Source: Joe Browning, UNCW Senior Associate A.D.