The University of Delaware may have left with CAA crown, but it was the city of Baltimore that was the real winner. The Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) held its Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament this past weekend at the Baltimore Arena. All nine schools were represented in this year’s tournament, but it was the University of Delaware that will go dancing into the NCAA Tournament.
The weekend opened up on Friday night with #8 seeded Hofstra University taking on #9 seeded University of North Carolina Wilmington. At the end of the first half Hofstra was leading UNCW 39-35, shooting 50 percent from the field. UNCW was able to pull even with the Pride to open the second half at 39 apiece, but the Seahawks were unable to keep up and fell 78-70 in front of a crowd of 1700.
Saturday was the biggest day of the tournament with 8 teams playing for that all important bid to the NCAA tournament. The day started with #1 seeded Delaware against #8 Hofstra. Hofstra had a quick turnaround playing in the first game of the day after moving on the night before, but this didn’t slow down the Pride, as they took a 40-37 lead going into the half. Delaware came out of the half, however, on an 11-2 run. The Blue Hens took a 10 point lead with just under 8 minutes left to go in the half and Hofstra could not respond. UD advanced to the semi-finals by a score of 87-76.
Next up was #5 Northeastern vs. #4 Drexel. This was the second time these opponents have met in one week, where Northeastern took the win the previous meeting. History once again repeated itself and the Huskies were able to stop the Dragons by a score of 90-81 in front of 3,000 fans.
The most anticipated game of the night was #2 Towson against the Dukes of James Madison University. The Towson Tigers felt like they were playing a home game in front of the 4,050 fans that came out to support the Tigers and Dukes. With their student section at their back, Towson shot 56.3 percent from beyond the arc. With under 11 minutes to play, Towson took a 53-41 lead and didn’t look back even after the Dukes cut the deficit to six. Towson was just too much to handle for JMU and advanced to the semi-final match up by a score of 80-71.
The final game of the night saw #3 William & Mary up against #6 College of Charleston. Charleston, which was competing in the tournament as a first-year CAA member, fought hard trailing the Tribe by 11 at the half. William & Mary shot lights out and ended the Cougars season by a score of 70-59.
The semi-finals were one step closer to the NCAA tournament for the last four remaining teams on Sunday. The day started with Delaware taking on Northeastern. The game was tight during the first half and UD held the edge 39-37 going into the break. The Blue Hens were able to pull away from the Huskies in the second half shooting 76 percent from the floor and stretched the lead to 22. The final score was 87-74 sending the Northeastern Huskies home for the third straight year.
In the second semi-final match up over 4,000 fans came out to support the Towson Tigers and William & Mary Tribe. William & Mary jumped out to a 5-0 start until Towson got the hot hand and narrowed the deficit. The teams headed into the locker room at 36 apiece. The Tribe started the second half the same as the first, jumping out to an 8 point lead. Towson battled throughout the game, but could only pull within one before falling to the Tribe, 75-71.
After a long three days it all came down to the championship match up between the Blue Hens and the Tribe and the game did not disappoint. William & Mary was looking for its first trip to the NCAA Tournament in program history, while UD was looking to win its first CAA title since joining the conference in 1999. The Tribe started the game off strong with an 18-10 lead. Delaware, however, ended the half on a 10-3 run and gave the Hens the lead 39-33 at halftime. The intensity of the game carried over into the second half where UD continued to push their lead to 12. William & Mary came back and took a six-point lead with only 1:20 remaining in the game. Delaware stayed strong and erased the deficit to make it a one point game, 74-73, with only 51 seconds remaining. It would take until the very last play to decide this year’s champion. With 12 seconds remaining the William & Mary guard stood at the top of the key and had a nice look at the basket and just missed to send the University of Delaware Blue Hens to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in school history.
Over 19,000 fans attended at least one game of the four day tournament. The Colonial Athletic Association has signed a three year contract with city of Baltimore and Baltimore Arena to host the tournament until 2016. The move to Baltimore was due in part of its central location. Seven of the CAA’s 10 member’s schools are located within 250 miles of the city.
I had the opportunity to intern with the CAA during the tournament and it was an experience I won’t forget. My responsibilities were to help with championship setup and breakdown, help with fan-selection of in-game promotions and manage the game day events. I was on the court for in-game promotions and then in the media room for post game interviews. Getting a behind-the-scenes look at the tournament was a great learning experience for me and I hope to be back again next year.