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Despite the quarterfinal loss, the tournament is a positive ending for UNCW

March 3, 2012 Columns, Your Phil of Hoops No Comments
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RICHMOND, Va. – UNCW valiantly battled on Saturday against Drexel, but it wasn’t enough. With their best player picking up two early fouls, they actually had a lead in the first half, but that didn’t last and an early second-half run did them in en route to a 59-47 loss to end the season. With the season over, however, there’s a look toward a brighter future that was helped by this weekend.

UNCW had some challenging stretches this season that they had to manage through. They started the season with five straight losses, then had losing streaks of three, four and six games once the calendar rolled over into 2012. The last one led into the CAA Tournament, where they knocked off James Madison on Friday to get to Saturday’s game.

UNCW also has the distinction of being the only team that Towson defeated this season, but that can happen with a young group that doesn’t know how to get up for every game in a consistent way. Peterson alluded to that, while Adam Smith, a CAA All-Rookie selection, came right out and talked about it.

“We learned a lot as freshmen,” said Smith. “You have to come every night ready to play, that’s the biggest thing.”

This was clearly a rebuilding year for the Seahawks, as tends to happen in the second year of a coach’s tenure. This edition of the Seahawks has just one rotation senior in Trevor Deloach, and only two juniors are in there as well. This weekend, two freshmen and two sophomores started, and all but one freshman got into the rotation at some point during the season. They also get back Craig Ponder, a talented freshman guard who redshirted due to an ankle injury sustained early in the season.

There were some bright spots along the way. They scored two road wins in non-conference play, and later beat Delaware, which finished fifth. Junior forward Keith Rendleman was a first team All-CAA Selection and Smith also won the aforementioned honor. Winning a game in the conference tournament can only help as well, if only to make the team more hungry from wanting more than what they got. They know what it’s like to win a game in Richmond, and should exit wanting more than that from knowing there is further to go.

“They came here yesterday and did something a UNCW team hadn’t done in a while, win a conference tournament game,” said Peterson. “It’s a lot to build on for our future, and we’ll get started with that pretty quickly.”

Leadership shouldn’t be a concern with this team. Rendleman averaged a double-double and was all business when the team went on the court. He had a rare zero-rebound performance on Saturday, which said as much about Drexel’s rebounding as anything. He’s one player this team can hang its hat on going forward, along with Smith, who said he wants to improve his ball handling to play the point at least in a pinch, or at least be a better ball handler off the ball.

One thing that could be a fly in the ointment is the possibility of a postseason ban due to APR scores. The Wilmington Star News reported that a decision on that won’t be final for about six weeks. Peterson also told the Star News that Rendleman would redshirt next season if they are ineligible for the postseason, which would mean that two years from now could be the big year for this core group.

UNCW has reason to feel positive going forward with their personnel, especially if Peterson and his staff can bring in some good help right behind the current freshmen. This weekend should only help from all angles.

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