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Colonial Notebook

January 29, 2008 Conference Notes No Comments



Colonial Athletic Association Notebook

by Jay Pearlman

Coach Benny Moss’ first season in Wilmington was a forgettable one. Fresh off winning the 2006 CAA tournament and a trip to the big dance, conference tourney MVP T.J. Carter missed the entire 2006-07 season with a groin injury, the Seahawks were a dismal 7-22 overall, and 4-15 in conference (including a first round loss in Richmond to Towson).

The lone bright spot was junior center Vladimir Kuljanin from Toronto, who came into his own in Carter’s absence to shoot 66 percent from the field and average 14 points and 7 rebounds. Fellow junior Todd Henley was second in scoring at 11. Junior guard Dan Fountain started 19 games, shot 35 percent, and averaged 10 points.

With Carter back to join Kuljanin and a senior-laden team, expectations were higher for Moss’ team this fall. Through 17 games, the Seahawks were an unimpressive 9-8, just 2-3 in the conference, looking up at Delaware, VCU, and George Mason, among others as they wound their way home from a 93-74 loss at James Madison on January 12. They were the second-highest scoring team in the conference, but they also gave up the second-most points.

But the schedule was about to get a tiny bit easier: 3 of 4 at home, the first three against sub-.500 teams and then George Mason on their own floor. If all went well, an opportunity to face GMU on a 3-game winning streak for a tie in the standings would arise. First a workmanlike home win over Towson, 81-68; then a coveted road win at Georgia State, 68-61; then home for Northeastern and Mason this past week.

When I arrived on campus Wednesday for the Northeastern game, Brian Mull of the Wilmington Star-News was reporting Dan Fountain out of the lineup with food poisoning. That might even things up offensively, I thought, as the Huskies arrived at Trask Coliseum fresh off their overtime defeat of Delaware, knocking the Blue Hens from a first-place tie.

But Fountain came out to warm up, and was included in the Seahawks’ starting lineup. A New Yorker, I was mindful of Ralph Kiner’s frequent TV admonition: “I usually went 4 for 4 when I was the sickest.” But this was basketball, not baseball, a sport requiring a series of 90 foot sprints followed by precision play, in Fountain’s case long-range shooting.

Northeastern started strong in Trask, building an eight-point lead behind Matt Janning and Nkem Ojougboh mid-way through the first half. Then Fountain emerged when Moss needed him most, clamping down on Janning defensively, shooting 5-7 in the half (all three-pointers), leading UNCW on a 23-4 run to close the half up 10.

While Northeastern came back twice in the second half, led by reserves Baptiste Bataille and Vin Lima, the deficit was too much to overcome, and behind Fountain the Seahawks prevailed 77-69. Fountain added only two free throws in the second half, but he’d done his job, finishing with 17 on that 5-7 three-point shooting.

Armed with a three-game winning streak extended by Fountain’s efforts, the Seahawks were ready for GMU on Saturday, and with all five starters scoring in double figures, UNCW overcame a five-point halftime deficit to upend the Patriots 61-58. Fountain had 10 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists. In conference play, Fountain is UNCW’s second leading scorer behind Carter (14 points), leads the team in minutes played (35 mintues), and most remarkably, is shooting 48 percent from behind the arc (30/63).

I spoke with Moss about Fountain after the Northeastern win, and he was beaming with pride. I suggested how super it is when a player improves between junior and senior year, and pointed to Dan’s three-point shooting. Moss was proudest of Fountain’s defense on Janning, recognizing that at least some of Janning’s 21 points were scored after the issue was decided (during that don’t-foul-a-three-point-shooter period late in the game – an edict UNCW admittedly needs work on). It was evident that Moss enjoys coaching Fountain, admires him, and more and more depends on him. And expects to be rewarded going forward.

While VCU won their seventh straight yesterday over Drexel to extend to 8-1 in conference play, in addition to Mason the other 6-2 second place teams went down at home – William and Mary to Old Dominion and Delaware to Georgia State. That moves UNCW into a four-way tie for second place in the conference at 6-3.

But before anyone gets too excited in beautiful beachside Wilmington, payment now comes due for the recent home stand, and the Seahawks begin a three-game road swing on Wednesday night, visiting ODU, William and Mary and Delaware, before returning home to face James Madison on February 9.

If the Seahawks can win two of three on the road – or even one – and if they are still tied for second when they return home – or are just one game out – they will be a legitimate threat for a second-place regular season finish, and a bye on that Friday of conference tournament play. And if the look on Moss’ face is any indication, that will happen because Dan Fountain continues to shoot, guard, and improve.

CAA News and Notes

  • Antoine Agudio’s 32 in Hofstra’s win at Northeastern on Saturday brought his career scoring total to 2,007.
  • No one – not even Dan Fountain – can be as hot from behind the arc as GMU’s Dre Smith was for a week or two (including 10-10 in Mason’s win over JMU). Well, things do even out, as Smith shot 1-7 from three (1-8 overall) in GMU’s three-point loss at Wilmington.
  • The conference Game-of-the-Year this Tuesday night, VCU at Mason, is on ESPN2 at 7 P.M.
  • Rod Barnes of Georgia State finally found himself on the right side of a tight game, as the Panthers beat Delaware by a single point.
  • Don’t look, now but Pat Kennedy’s Towson Tigers are 4-1 at home in conference play following yesterday’s win over struggling JMU.
  • Remember, both Kennedy and Barnes have those transfers sitting out, ready to play immediately next year for Towson and Georgia State.

     

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