One of my favorite NCAA Tournament games of all time has to be from the '02 tourney in the 1st round when UNC-Wilmington knocked off USC in OT 93-89. That game and Seahawk team was led by Brett Blizzard. With the upset and such a unique last name, Blizzard, a 3 point gunner and eventual all time leading scorer became synonymous with UNC-W basketball.
Blizzard graduated in 2003 and while Wilmington has had some success since then, they have fallen on tough times as of late with 3 straight losing seasons. The coach who is looking to turn things around is Buzz Peterson who has jumped around a bit with 4 different jobs in the past 5 years. He has a very young squad as they were coming off 2 guarantee game losses against Maryland and Dayton and were having their home opener against C-USA opponent Marshall.
I had never been to Wilmington for a game before and I really have no excuse since it is only an hour and a half away. The Seahawks home, Trask Coliseum, had just gotten a $2 million renovation as I was told by a few season ticket holders that they got a new video board, floor, seats, and sound system.
When I got to the UNCW campus, I did what I normally do when I'm at a new arena, follow everybody else and hope I'm going to the right entrance. There was a bit of mini cluster once I walked in because they were giving away free "Soar Once More" t-shirts, and by "giving away" I mean the t-shirts were all in boxes and people had to fend for themselves. I made my way to my seat, which I thought was going to be quite good since when I picked it out online it was in the first row of the 2nd level. I came to find out there's a railing obstructing the view of the first few rows, so I just ended up moving up in the half full arena to get a better view.
The Seahawks came out fast hitting 5 of their first 6 shots causing Marshall coach Tom Herrion to take a quick timeout. I was amazed how loud it got with the arena only being half full and only could imagine how loud it could get if it was a packed house. The noisy atmosphere would not last as Wilmington would only make 5 more shots the rest of the half. Marshall was able to slowly climb back into the game and consequently take the lead after getting into the double bonus early. A 3 pointer by Marshall's DeAndre Kane near the very end of the half extended that lead to 36-25.
The 2nd half was more Marshall as they were up 16 in a flash, but the young Seahawks didn't quit. They used a bit of a role reversal on Marshall and got into the bonus 5 minutes into the half. They were forcing turnovers while Marshall wasn't helping themselves out by shooting long 3's early in the shot clock. Wilmington got the lead down to 4, but then the youth started to come through again as turnovers and poor shooting started kicking in.
The Thundering Herd started to pull away again and had a lead of 14 with a little over 5 minutes to go. That is when the fans started leaving the arena which annoys me to no end. Are they that quick to give up on their team? Have they never watched a basketball game before? 14 points is nothing in a college game. It's not like they were beating traffic, it was very easy to get in and out of the campus. If you don't plan on staying the whole game, then give your tickets to someone who will.
Anyways, UNCW did come back and got the lead down to 6 on an Adam Smith 3 with about a minute to go, unfortunately Damier Pitts came back down and responded with a 3 late in the shot clock to put a dagger in the Seahawks and with the final score of 69-64.
Coach Peterson has some work to do with this young team. They do have a lot of fight in them and is the next Brett Blizzard among these kids? It's still too early to tell, but they are getting better and should become a tough out once CAA play begins.
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.