Clutch Shots Lifts Menís Hoops Over ETSU And Into First Place In SoCon
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. – The UNCG men’s basketball team continued its best start in 21 seasons Thursday night as the Spartans went into Johnson City and came away with a hard fought 83-79 victory over East Tennessee State in front of a hostile 4,112 fans at Freedom Hall.
"This is a really big win for our program," head coach Wes Miller said. "To come into this building against that team and come out victorious is big. We played two really good games last year but didn't come out in top. We put in the effort and fight tonight to get a big-time road win. Winning on the road is hard to do but winning on the road against a really good team like ETSU is big for our guys."
The Spartans improved to 13-5 on the season and moved into a first place tie in the Southern Conference with a 4-1 record. UNCG also became just the second team this season to knock off the Bucs in Freedom Hall (Tennessee) while also handing ETSU its first SoCon loss of the season as the Buccaneers fall to 13-4, 3-1 in league play. The Spartans will try to match their regular season win total from last year already Saturday afternoon when they travel to VMI (14-17 regular season).
The Spartans were unconscious from 3-point land in the victory as they finished the night 13-of-20 (65%) shooting from deep. UNCG also connected on 50 percent (26-of-52) overall from the field and hit 18-of-22 (81.8%) from the free throw line.
Sophomore guard Francis Alonso (Malaga, Spain/Cushing Academy) continued his stellar play of late, scoring a game-high 24 points, marking his third straight game of 20-plus points. Alonso connected on 7-of-10 from the field, including three 3-pointers, while also hitting 7-of-8 from the free throw line. He scored 15 first half points to help the Spartans overcome a slow start.
Senior center R.J. White (Frisco, Texas/Frisco) came alive in the second half of play in an unconventional way. The 6-8 center stepped out beyond the 3-point line and ignited the Spartans’ attack, finishing with 18 points, 15 in the second half. White connected on a season-high 5-of-7 from 3-point land, knocking in four straight attempts in the second half in 24 minutes of play.
Senior guard Diante Baldwin (Greensboro, N.C./High Point Christian) also came on strong in the second half, finishing with 15 points, 11 of which came in the second half. Baldwin was 5-of-10 from the field but hit a pair of clutch 3-pointers in the second half, including the back-breaker for the Bucs with 42.9 seconds remaining in the game.
ETSU finished the night hitting 49.0 percent (25-of-51) from the field and hit 8-of-18 (44.4%) from 3-point land. Desonta Bradford led the way with 17 points while David Burrell came off the bench and scored 15 points. T.J. Cromer, the Bucs’ leading scorer, was held to just nine points in the loss on 2-of-7 shooting from the field.
The Spartans started sloppy to open the game, falling behind 9-0 through the first three minutes as they committed turnovers on the first three possessions. The Bucs held a 20-10 lead with 10:24 remaining until the Spartans posted an 18-4 run to take a 28-24 lead. UNCG started to heat up from deep as freshman Malik Massey (Charlotte, N.C./New Hampton Prep) and junior Marvin Smith (Richmond, Va./Fork Union Military Academy) hit one each from deep. Alonso got on track with a pair of 3-pointers, including the one at 28-24 to force an ETSU timeout.
Smith would give the Spartans a 43-37 lead heading into the locker room as he hit a pair of free throws with 11 seconds remaining and blocked a last-second attempt by Hanner Mosquera-Perea. The Spartans hit 6-of-8 from 3-point land in the first half and connected on 11-of-12 from the free throw line in the opening 20 minutes. Alonso led the way with 15 points while redshirt freshman forward James Dickey (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God) added seven points off the bench.
The Spartans opened the second half and extended the lead to double figures at 50-40 when Smith hit another 3-pointer to force a Buccaneer timeout. ETSU responded with the next eight points to pull within two at 50-48. Tevin Glass scored five straight points while Bradford completed an old-fashioned 3-point play to make it a one-possession game.
The teams would battle back-and-forth for much of the second half as the game saw 11 lead changes. ETSU took a 58-56 lead on a Mosquera-Perea dunk, but White answered with a 3-pointer to give UNCG back the lead. A.J. Merriweather put the Bucs in front 67-66 with 4:57 remaining as he scored on a fast break, but Baldwin showed his toughness hitting a deep 3-pointer to give the Spartans back the lead at 69-67 with 4:28 remaining.
Burrell tried to put the Bucs on his back, scoring five straight, including a 3-pointer to put ETSU in front 72-69. Alonso came down and hit two free throws before White hit his fifth 3-pointer of the night to give UNCG a 74-72 lead. The Bucs had an answer though as Burrell hit another 3-pointer to give ETSU the lead back at 75-74.
Alonso would have the next clutch shot as he drilled a runner in the lane as the shot clock was winding down to put UNCG in front for good with 2:10 remaining at 76-75. The Spartans’ defense came up with a stop and White again came through, this time down low scoring off an offensive rebound put back to give UNCG a 78-75 lead.
Cromer would miss a potential game-tying 3-pointer with 1:11 remaining to set the table for Baldwin’s dagger. He nailed his second 3-pointer of the half as the shot clock was winding down to give UNCG an 81-75 lead with 42.9 seconds left. The Spartans would ice the game away with defense and free throw shooting as Alonso and Baldwin each hit from the stripe to secure the victory.
Smith finished the night with 10 points and five rebounds as he was 2-of-2 from deep and 4-of-4 from the free throw line. Dickey finished with seven points and seven rebounds off the bench as the Spartans won the battle on the glass by a 31-29 margin.