WILMINGTON, N.C. (UNCW release) - Featuring a revamped roster stocked with eight newcomers, third-year Head Coach C.B. McGrath carries his new-look Seahawks into the 2019-20 men’s basketball season opener Tuesday night against Johnson & Wales.
The Seahawks, 10-23 one year ago, return only five players for the 7 p.m. tip-off at Trask Coliseum. But McGrath and his staff are optimistic about the potential of this year’s club.
“The practices have been very competitive,” said McGrath. “We’ve got a lot of guys that want to play and they’re playing hard in practice. What they do in the games will determine their playing time.
“I just want us to play hard and play together. Johnson & Wales likes to get up and down the court and shoot a lot of three’s. They will be really excited about playing. We just have to match their energy. We have to concentrate on not getting caught up in the opening game and the crowd. We just need to play under control, play with discipline and make the plays we’ve been working on every day and not have too much game slippage.
“Hopefully, we play great. We’re looking forward to a good game. We know they will compete real hard…and so will we.”
UNCW and JWU are squaring off for the first time in the starting leg of three straight home games to kick off the new season for the Seahawks. UNCW’s first five opponents are based in North Carolina, including UNC’s Tar Heels, who come to town on Friday for their debut at Trask Coliseum.
JWU is a member of the United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA), a national organization not affiliated with the NCAA or NAIA, but featuring non-scholarship schools. The Wildcats compete in the EMAC (Eastern Metro Athletic Conference) with four other teams.
The Wildcats opened their season last Saturday with a 117-62 throttling of South Carolina Faith A&M. JWU raced out to a 43-29 halftime lead and held the Ragin’ Bulls to 37.8 percent shooting on the night. Senior guard Majerle Poole paced JWU with 19 points, while sophomore forward Zyrion Wilkins added 17 and senior guard Robert Hobson and junior forward CJ Miller chipped in 12 points.
A familiar face will be sitting on the JWU bench. Second-year JWU head coach Dan Larkin served as a student manager for former Seahawk skipper Buzz Peterson from 2010-14. He is the second former Seahawk to head up the JWU program, following in the footsteps of Lamont Franklin, who directed the first team in Wildcat history in 2010-11.
UNCW will counter with a guard-oriented lineup anchored by sophomore playmaker Kai Toews, who set UNCW and CAA records for assists in 2018-19. The Tokyo native also chipped in 8.8 points and 7.6 assists per game in a spectacular freshman season.
With top returning scorer Ty Gadsden (11.2 ppg) on the shelf until next month, the Seahawks will depend on heavy contributions from Toews and sophomore guard Jaylen Sims early in the slate. Sims collected 5.7 points and 3.0 rebounds off the bench for McGrath’s club.
The Seahawks stand 43-7 lifetime against non-Division I opponents, including 35-3 at home. UNCW has won 12 in a row vs. non-Division I opponents since a 55-54 loss at Alaska-Fairbanks on Nov. 24, 1996.
The Seahawks own a 25-28 scorecard in season openers since records became available in 1963-64. The total includes a 17-7 mark at Trask Coliseum and 8-21 ledger in combined road/neutral site contests. UNCW has not lost at home in the season opener since a 63-60 defeat to UNC Charlotte on Nov. 25, 1995.
The Seahawks are opening the season on their home floor for the fourth time in the last five years. UNCW has won seven consecutive games when opening the season on its home floor and has not lost a season opener at home since Nov. 25, 1995 (63-60 vs. Charlotte).
UNCW plays 13 non-conference games before the CAA opener on Dec. 28 at Delaware. The non-conference ledger features seven home games, four road contests and two neutral site matchups.
Following Tuesday’s clash, the Seahawks return to their home floor Friday to host No. 9 North Carolina in a 7 p.m. game that is already sold out.