WILMINGTON, N.C. – And they thought Spring Break was exciting. Students at UNC-Wilmington returned to campus today after Spring Break to bask in the excitement of the school’s basketball team earning the right to play the NCAA defending champion Duke Blue Devils.
“We have a good chance this year, we’re excited about it,” said Ashley Hines, a junior at UNC-W. “To be playing in the big dance, playing Duke which is a big name school, it’s a big deal. We’re all about the North Carolina rivalries.”
It’s the first time in 10 years that UNC-W has made it to the NCAA Tournament.
“That was such a long time ago,” said Sean Turner, a freshman at UNC-W. “It was around when I started watching NCAA basketball so it’s pretty crazy to be back here my first year in college and be in the NCAA tournament.”
The Seahawks got an automatic bid after defeating top-seeded Hofstra in the Colonial Athletic Association championship game last week.
Employees at Copper Penny, a popular sports bar in downtown Wilmington, said they anticipate a large, yet divided crowd for the Thursday afternoon game. “I think it will be a little bit difficult for some fans who have always been Duke fans but are alumnus of UNC-W,” said Kat McDaniel, the restaurant’s assistant manager. “They’re going to be a little torn but hopefully they go towards their hometown team.”
The two North Carolina teams will be heading up to Providence, Rhode Island to play in the West Region Thursday. Despite being in the same state, UNC-W and Duke have only played once before and that was in 1982, during Coach Krzyzewski second season. The Blue Devils won 67-57 in overtime.
Students and fans say they like their chances this time. Despite winning the national championship last season, Duke has lost to underdogs in the first round twice in the last four years – to Lehigh in 2012 and to Mercer in 2014.
“If there’s any time to play Duke, it’s right now,” said UNC-W senior Sarah Sykes. “They’re kind of coming off some bad losses.”
Mark Jackson, sophomore, agrees the 27-6 Seahawks have a good chance. “If any 13 seed can beat a 4-seed, I think it’s us, and I’m ready to see it.” he said.
While most students won’t make the 12-hour trip to Rhode Island, many say they’ll be watching the game, which starts at 12:15 p.m. “I’ll be watching from class,” Hines said. “Don’t tell my professor.”