UNC Wilmington basketball players are being driven by massive chip on their shoulders

Addison Spruill and the Seahawks are making a run at the CAA conference title.
Addison Spruill. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Addison Spruill. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

UNC Wilmington basketball seniors Addison Spruill and Freddie Jackson shouldered most of the scoring load in Saturday’s 79-74 road win against Hofstra. It was surprising they had any room available considering the huge chip that also occupies a great deal of real estate on the shoulders of the seasoned veterans.

And rightfully so, Spruill and Jackson have reason to play with extra attitude after the Seahawks were picked to finish ninth in the CAA preseason coaches’ poll. Spruill dropped a game-high 23 points and Jackson added 21 to lead UNCW (9-8, 4-2) to a huge conference win over Hofstra (13-6, 4-2). The Seahawks are now in a three-way tie for second in the CAA along with the Pride and James Madison.

“We just play with a lot of confidence, we know that there are teams out there ranked higher than us so we just bring our ‘A’ game every night. We believe that we’re a good team and we show it in our play,” Jackson said.

While many may view this win as an upset, it comes as no surprise to the Seahawks, who also hold a win over CAA-favorite Northeastern.

“We feel like we match up very well with every team in the conference, from one to ten,” Spruill said. “We were picked ninth, but we’re gonna try to show people we’re better than a ninth-place team.”

Trailing 69-63 with a little over five minutes left, the Seahawks displayed a lot of grit and toughness as they closed out the game on a 16-5 run. Freshman point guard Jordan Talley knocked down a huge three-pointer with 1:27 left to give UNCW a two-point lead that wouldn’t be relinquished.

“We’re just a scrappy bunch,” Jackson said. “We had a freshman step up and hit the three that put us up two, and that just shows what kind of team we are.”

Jackson went down in pain early in the second half when he rolled his left ankle, but sat for just four minutes after realizing it was a minor twist. “It felt like something more serious,” he laughed. “I just shook it off.”

“It showed me a lot about him,” UNCW head coach Kevin Keatts said. “I never want to put a guy on the floor when he’s hurt, but he was tapping me on the shoulder saying, ‘Coach, I’m ready to go.’”

Even when a senior leader went down, the Seahawks didn’t blink at all.

“We were fine,” Spruill said. “We have some pretty good depth, if one goes down we feel like we can bring somebody in to match the same energy that Freddie brings.”

Ameen Tanksley led Hofstra with 19 points and eight boards. Moussa Kone added 14 points and seven rebounds. Juan’ya Green had 14 points but was held to 2-of-11 shooting from the field.

Talley finished with 17 points and C.J. Gettys added 10. UNCW outscored Hofstra 40-18 in the paint; the way the Seahawks pounded the ball inside would’ve made you think they were playing on Sunday with a spot in the Super Bowl on the line.

UNCW played with an edge on Saturday and will continue to do so going forward, with the players refusing to forget the way the preseason poll felt like a slap across each of their faces.

“Most definitely,” Spruill said emphatically when asked if they have a chip on their shoulders. “We feel like we can be number one in the conference. Being picked ninth, that’s basically taking shots at us. That’s just saying we can’t win this league, but I feel like we can win it.”

“Our whole team is dangerous because we play together and we believe, so I think that’s gonna be a huge positive in our favor down the stretch,” Jackson said. “I definitely don’t think that we’re the ninth-place team, so we’ve just been hustling and working had every day in practice just to try and prove ourselves. I think everything is starting to fall into place for us.”