NEWARK, Del. - - A large first half hole was too deep to climb out of for the Wilmington University men's basketball team as they fell to Caldwell, 81-74, in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference Tournament Quarterfinals on Saturday afternoon at the WU Athletics Complex.
The Wildcats (19-10) earned the South Division's No. 2 seed by virtue of a 14-5 conference record during the season. They hosted the Cougars (17-11), the North Division's No. 3 seed, in the program's first ever home playoff game.
Playing in front of a packed house, it was the visitors that jumped out in front early in the first half. Leading 13-8, the Cougars went on a 9-4 spurt to take their first double-digit lead of the game, 22-12, with 10:08 to play in the first half. The lead continued to balloon to 32-15 and eventually 40-24 with another three-pointer. Caldwell ended the first half with another three-pointer, going into the break on top, 44-26.
The visitors shot 15-of-28 from the floor in the first half, hitting 6-of-11 from beyond the three-point arc. The Wildcats went just 8-of-28 from the floor, 3-of-11 from deep, and just 7-of-12 from the foul line.
The lead grew to as large as 20 points early in the second half, as the Cougars came out of the break with a dunk from Eric Johnson-Alford. The Wildcats didn't start to claw back until the 17:30 mark, still down 48-28.
Tyaire Ponzo-Meek started a much needed 11-0 run with a pair from the free throw line and capping it with a three-pointer to get to within 48-39 with 14:45 showing on the clock. The Cougars were able to stem the tide and keep the Wildcats at an arms length until a Nick Richards three pointer had the Wildcats to within 58-48 once more. An offensive rebound and put-back by Richards brought the Wildcats to within striking distance, 58-51, with 7:50 to play in regulation.
Caldwell had an answer, however, as the Cougars went on an 11-3 run to extend the lead back out to 15 points with less than five minutes to play. Brian Adkins tried to get the Wildcats going offensively, hitting back-to-back three-pointer to again get it to single digits at 69-60. But Derek Dorn came down and stuck a three-pointer of his own, hitting the shot despite being heavily guarded. The Cougars would go 9-of-14 from the foul line from that point forward, keeping the margin between nine and 11 until the end of the game.
Ponzo-Meek ended his illustrious career with 30 points on Saturday, shooting 9-of-20 from the floor, hitting three three-pointers, and going perfect 9-of-9 form the foul line. He finished his career with a program record 1,808 career points and 174 career steals while finishing second all-time with 533 rebounds and 336 career assists.
The Wildcats shot 25-of-63 (39.7%) from the floor for the game, including just 10-of-29 (34.5%) from three-point territory.
The 19 wins are an NCAA era record for the Wildcats, besting their previous win total by eight wins. It is the first time the team finished above .500 on the year, both overall and in CACC play.