Buzz Peterson's UNC-Wilmington squad is not quite there yet. This was evident in the Seahawks' 69-64 loss in the home opener against Marshall.
UNCW's roster features eight freshmen and four sophomores, and, on this night at least, the five players on the floor were often comprised of at least four underclassmen. More often than not, the Seahawk lineup consisted of four freshmen (in various combinations) and a sophomore.
While this portents good things for the lone North Carolina school in the CAA in the future, having so many young players on the floor at one time leads to up and down stretches. (See a nine-point loss on the road at Maryland followed by a 25-point loss at Dayton).
Young teams are prone to stretches where few points are scored and problems with turnovers (either in number or at in opportune times). The Seahawks had both of these issues come up against the Herd.
UNCW raced out an early 12-3 lead in the first five minutes and then managed seven points over the next 12 minutes as Marshall took a 28-19 lead.
A 14-2 run early in the second half drew the Seahawks to within four at 45-41, and UNCW had the ball with a chance to get even closer when the turnover problem reared its ugly head. On back-to-back possessions, Marshall's defense forced steals that led to easy baskets. Suddenly, all the momentum UNCW had earned over the seven minutes was gone. Marshall turned a four-point lead into eight. A few minutes later, the lead ballooned to 14.
To Peterson's young squad's credit, the Seahawks did not simply call it a night after the last Marshall run. UNCW responded with an 11-3 run to close within six at 62-56 that brought the teal-clad crowd at the Trask Coliseum to its feet. Unfortunately for home crowd, on the ensuing possession, Damier Pitts hit a straight-on three-pointer with five seconds on the shot clock to boost Marshall's lead back to nine and ensure the few green-shirted folks in the crowd would go home much happier than the teal-shirted people would.
The UNCW faithful, while disappointed that they did not see a Red Line Upset, saw their first glimpses of a few of promising freshmen. Adam Smith (one can only wonder if he is an Economics major) and hometown product Freddie Jackson combined for 27 points on the night, and Cedric Williams paced the Seahawks with 11 rebounds.
There will undoubtedly be growing pains for UNCW as this season progresses and as the players continue to come together as a team. This game could very well be a microcosm of the season, with the ups and downs in the game being mirrored by the crests and troughs of the whole year.
Peterson's team will get to the upper echelon of the CAA in time, but the young Seahawks are not quite there yet.
MARSHALL 69, at NORTH CAROLINA-WILMINGTON 64 11/22/2011
MARSHALL 4-0 (0-0) -- D. Saddler 6-14 7-9 21; D. Pitts 7-12 5-8 21; D. Kane 5-7 7-11 19; R. Goff 2-3 3-4 7; S. Johnson 2-5 1-2 5; D. Pena 1-7 2-2 5; J. Coleman 2-7 0-0 5; D. Tinnon 3-3 1-2 7; Y. Mbao 0-2 0-0 0; J. Hanner 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-46 19-29 69. NORTH CAROLINA-WILMINGTON 0-3 (0-0) -- C. Ponder 1-6 0-0 2; C. Williams 3-7 0-2 6; K. Rendleman 5-10 5-7 15; D. Morales 3-6 0-0 6; A. Smith 4-7 5-8 14; F. Jackson 4-5 5-6 13; T. Milson 2-5 0-0 6; M. Wilson 1-2 0-0 2; T. Deloach 0-2 0-0 0; S. Reybold 0-0 0-0 0; D. Sherwood 0-1 0-0 0; K. Simmons 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-51 15-23 64.
Three-point goals: MRSH 6-22 (S. Johnson 0-2; D. Pena 1-6; D. Pitts 2-7; D. Kane 2-4; J. Coleman 1-3), UNCW 3-11 (T. Deloach 0-1; T. Milson 2-4; D. Morales 0-1; F. Jackson 0-1; C. Ponder 0-1; D. Sherwood 0-1; A. Smith 1-2); Rebounds: MRSH 31 (S. Johnson 8), UNCW 30 (C. Williams 11); Assists: MRSH 8 (D. Pitts 5), UNCW 12 (C. Ponder 5); Total Fouls -- MRSH 22, UNCW 23; Fouled Out: MRSH-None; UNCW-D. Morales.