UNCW couldn’t hold on to their 43-40 first-half lead over Duke, falling to the Blue Devils 93-85 in the first game of the NCAA Tournament in Providence, RI.
The Seahawks, a 13-seed, led by as many as seven points in the first half, but struggled due to foul trouble and a 16-3 run by the fourth-seeded Duke at the start of the second half.
"I couldn't be more proud of a group of guys that have laid it out on the line for me for 33 games this year," said UNCW head coach Kevin Keatts, who ends his second season with 25 wins. "We talked about it in the locker room, and one of the things I said to those guys is when we leave this locker room, I want you to hold your head up. I know we're all big-time competitors and we all hate to lose, but the effort that these guys have given me all year long is unbelievable."
Duke used a 12-0 run to start the second half, helping them gain an edge that was challenge but never seriously threatened until late in the game.
Kevin Keatts: "Anytime you got a rotation and you've been use to playing guys in different minutes and different spots of the game when they get in foul trouble it certainly takes your routine or rhythm out a little bit," said Keatts.
"I think it was more so our shots weren't falling and we didn't get back in our press as well as we did in the first half," said Craig Ponder, who ended his career with 22 points in a gutsy effort, where the lead was nearly cut to 2 points with under a minute to go. 'They got some easy transition lay-ups, you know that was the difference in the game really."
Meanwhile, back home in Trask Coliseum, JaQuel Richmond watched the game, knowing that he will have a chance to contribute next season. The redshirt transfer from Middle Tennessee State University must sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules.
"I feel like we had a great season we accomplished a lot this season,we broke a lot of records, we had a great season, we broke the winning streak here at UNCW, we had a great season," Richmond said.
Duke, the defending national champions, advances to the second round will now play the winner of the Yale-Baylor game.
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