BALTIMORE, Maryland – Eighth-seeded Hofstra survived a long range assault and spirited play by No. 9-seeded UNCW to escape with a 78-70 victory in the opening game of the 2014 Colonial Athletic Association Men’s Basketball Championship Friday night at the Baltimore Arena.

The Pride knocked off the Seahawks for the third time this season and improved to 10-22 with the hard-fought win. Hofstra faces top-seeded Delaware in the first of four quarterfinal pairings on Saturday at Noon

UNCW, meanwhile, closed out its season with a 9-23 mark after dropping four of its last five outings.

"My hat’s off to Hofstra,” said UNCW fourth-year head coach Buzz Peterson, who concluded his fourth season with the Seahawks. “We had some opportunities late and had our chances. The kids fought back and it was always a one or two possession lead.

“It was just like it’s been all year, we just can’t finish around the rim. I wanted to get to the free throw as much as possible, but none of our big guys were able to do that.”

Graduate guard Zeke Upshaw scored 27 and 16 points in two regular season victories for Hofstra over UNCW and continued to torment the Seahawks. He anchored five Pride players in double figures with 23 points, connecting on 4-of-7 from deep, and was complemented by senior guard Dion Nesmith with 15 points, junior forward Moussa Kone with 11 and freshman guard Jamall Robinson and senior forward Stephen Nwaukoni with 10 apiece.

Redshirt sophomore guard Craig Ponder of UNCW poured in 24 points to lead all scorers, coming just two points shy of his career high. Junior guard Freddie Jackson chipped in 16 points, including 11 in a second half comeback.

The Seahawks put up some strong statistical numbers, converting a season-high eight three-pointers, connecting on 12-of-14 at the free throw line and dishing out 16 assists on 25 field goals. However, the Pride shot 50.9 percent and built a 44-29 bulge on the glass, including 14 offensive boards.

I felt like we played extremely hard,” added Peterson. “I’ll take eight turnovers and 16 assists on any night. Craig’s had a very good last month and has been pretty consistent.”

Hofstra and first-year skipper Joe Mihalich outscored UNCW, 39-35, in each half and the domination on the boards allowed the Pride to score 40 points in the paint.

After taking a four-point lead into halftime, the Pride could not shake the stubborn Seahawks through the first eight minutes of the second period until a sudden surge gave them some separation.

Upshaw drained a long triple from the left corner and Nwaukoni sank a free throw with 8:28 remaining to give the Pride a 58-50 advantage and the momentum.

But Ponder, who poured in 26 points last December at Marshall, keyed a seven-point spurt with a nifty bank shot and Dylan Sherwood sank a trey in front of the Seahawk bench to chop the lead back to one point, 58-57, near the six-minute mark.

UNCW eventually went ahead, 70-69, on a timely trifecta by Chris Dixon from the left corner with 2:22 on the clock, but that was all the Seahawks had left. UNCW missed its final six field goal attempts and the Pride closed out the game by scoring the last nine points to stay in the running for the league’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.

Peterson, who stands 1-3 in CAA Tournament games, pointed to rebounding as one of the keys in the entertaining game. “We gave up way too many offensive rebounds. If you don’t keep them off the offensive glass, you can’t beat them. They took advantage of us on the glass.”

Hofstra maintained control most of the first half, but the Seahawks kept close behind the crafty play of Ponder, who erupted for 14 points in the opening period.

After Shane Reybold gave the Seahawks a 5-3 edge at 17:52, the Pride reeled off nine straight points for its largest lead of the first half, 12-5, on Jordan Allen’s two free throws with 15:58 remaining.

Hofstra was still in front, 27-23, midway through the period when Ponder caught fire. The quick guard drove through the right side for a layup and then tacked on three free throws when fouled on a three-point attempt to give the Seahawks a 28-27 advantage at 6:29.

But the Pride outscored the Seahawks the remainder of the period, 12-7, to take a 39-35 lead into the break. Robinson’s conventional three-point play with 32 seconds left gave the Pride a slight edge heading into the final period.

GAME NOTES: Hofstra won both games in the regular season series, taking a 69-64 victory on Jan. 14 at Trask Coliseum and a 61-52 decision on Feb. 8 at the Mack Sports Complex…The Seahawks had just eight turnovers…Hofstra attempted 17 more free throws than the Seahawks…Shane Reybold and Cedrick Williams each fouled out…There were eight ties and nine lead changes…UNCW’s bench outscored their counterparts, 33-12…Hofstra only played seven players…Upshaw played 40 minutes for the third straight game against the Seahawks…Ponder went 9-of-11 at the free throw line…Ben Eblen led all players with five assists off the bench.