The Cougars and the Seahawks are some of the nation's finest mid-major programs, and it showed on Wednesday night. PIC: Charleston Athletics
As John Fanta said it best, the "heavyweight showdown" was one to remember.
Charleston and UNC Wilmington, who carried the nation's two longest winning streaks heading into Wednesday night's contest, knew what they were up for. Charleston, ranked #22 in the latest AP Top 25, has a group that has never had more chemistry and depth than the current product. UNC Wilmington, fresh off a 2022 CBI Tournament Championship, hadn't lost since their November 18th showdown against UConn.
Safe to say Trask Coliseum was buzzing at the prospect of last night's contest.
So as to not bury the lede, Charleston ultimately defeated UNC Wilmington 71-69. While the score certainly reflects how close this game was, it didn't do justice to the mayhem in the last three minutes.
Charleston held a comfortable lead throughout the first half. They led 42-31 at halftime, 46-38, and 51-44. But it was a coordinated effort from the Seahawks to come back and compete for the win; Amari Kelly converted a crucial and-one, Jamarii Thomas scored 6 points over the span of a couple of minutes, and just like that, the Seahawks were within a possession.
UNC Wilmington re-gained the lead with 4 minutes left, and sent the win probability chart to outer space when Jamarii Thomas drained a three pointer at the two-minute mark to put the Seahawks up by 5.
Unfortunately enough for the Seahawks, they couldn't manage to score again on their home floor. Ante Brzovic returned the favor of a three-pointer to shorten the lead back to 69-67. With a UNCW missed shot, Charleston pushed the tempo and tied it up with a Ryan Larson layup, forcing a foul to get him a free throw to reclaim the lead. UNCW missed every shot they took from there on out (just over a minute of play), and Charleston escaped with the win.
It's clear that both of these teams will be in great shape come the CAA Tournament in March. Charleston is likely destined for an at-large bid barring an historic collapse, while UNC Wilmington will likely be in a favorable position to compete in the postseason (be it the NCAA Tourney, NIT, or CBI like they won last year). But one thing is for sure - Charleston is burning with passion for its Cougars.