What A Comeback! Menís Basketball Stuns Mercer 68-66 In Final Minutes On Baldwin 3-Pointer
GREENSBORO, N.C. – UNCG men’s basketball senior guard Diante Baldwin (Greensboro, N.C./High Point Christian) had a flair for the dramatic Thursday night as Baldwin hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 4.1 seconds remaining and the Spartans closed the final 2:49 of the game on a 15-5 run to stun Southern Conference foe Mercer 68-66 at the Greensboro Coliseum.
The victory ran the Spartans’ winning streak to five-straight games and improved UNCG to 15-5 overall on the season and 6-1 in league play, alone in first place in the SoCon. The Spartans also matched their win total from all of last season with the 15th victory Thursday as UNCG is off to the second-best start in school history and the best since the 1994-95 season.
“I told my guys in the locker room this is as proud as I have been as a coach,” head coach Wes Miller said. “We didn’t play well tonight, but we found a way to win. We gutted it out and with four minutes left we just put our heads down and willed ourselves to the victory. This is a big win against a very good Mercer team. We showed that fight and will that no to lose tonight. What a big-time shot by a senior in Diante Baldwin tonight at the end to give us the lead.”
The Spartans found themselves down 61-53 with 2:59 remaining in the game when Jordan Strawberry hit a jumper for the Bears. UNCG got the ball rolling as sophomore guard Francis Alonso (Malaga, Spain/Cushing Academy) hit a pair of free throws to trim the deficit to six. The Spartans turned up the pressure on defense with the full court pressure and forced a turnover, which led to a basket in the paint by senior center R.J. White (Frisco, Texas/Frisco) with 2:06 remaining to make it 61-57.
After a pair of free throws by Ria’n Holland of Mercer, Alonso answered right back with a jumper in the lane to keep it a four-point game. Holland only hit one of two free throws on the ensuing possession and junior forward Marvin Smith (Richmond, Va./Fork Union Military Academy) shook off a tough shooting night by nailing just his second field goal of the game, a 3-pointers with 1:12 remaining to make it a 64-62 deficit.
Stephon Jelks was fouled on the next possession but he missed both of his free throws. Baldwin quickly worked his way into the lane and scored on a drive with 46 seconds remaining, tying the game at 64-64. The Spartans again stepped up on defense forcing Holland into a turnover with 27 seconds remaining on the clock.
UNCG walked the ball up the floor and got it into Baldwin’s hands. He went one-on-one with his defender and forced him to retreat with a dribble before stepping back and nailing a 3-pointer from 22-feet out with 4.1 seconds to give UNCG a 67-64 lead. The Spartans chose to foul on the next possession and Demetre Rivers hit two free throws with 2.8 seconds remaining but Alonso hit one of two at the line with 2.4 seconds left the seal the victory as Mercer’s full court shot at the buzzer was way off the mark.
“We haven’t won a game this way in a long time,” Miller said. “This was a night when things didn’t go our way but we stayed together and kept battling. We have a lot of things we can work on and improve, but I am proud of our guys for not giving in and finding a way to win tonight.”
Baldwin, who struggled for most of the night from the field, scored five points in the final 46 seconds of the game to help propel UNCG to the 15-5 closing run. He finished with 13 points on the night and became the 23rd player in UNCG basketball history to reach the 1,000-career point mark, finishing the night with 1,006 points, the biggest coming on the last shot of the night for UNCG.
Alonso continued his torrid play in SoCon play, tying his career-high with 26 points and posting his fourth 20-plus point scoring game in the last five outings, all wins for UNCG. He finished the night shooting 7-of-9 from the field, 4-of-6 from 3-point land and 8-of-9 from the free throw line in 38 minutes of action. He scored 18 of his 26 points in the second half to help UNCG rally for the victory.
UNCG’s late heroics overcame a tough night offensively for the Spartans as they finished shooting 43.4 percent (23-of-53) from the field and 36.4 percent (8-of-22) from 3-point land. White finished with eight points and six assists on 4-of-8 shooting before fouling out after 19 minutes of action.
Mercer (8-12, 2-5 SoCon) was on the wrong end of the closing run again as the Bears have dropped numerous one-possession games this season. Mercer finished the night shooting 44.0 percent (22-of-50) from the field and 33.3 percent (6-of-18) from distance. The Bears were strong at the line at 72.7 percent (16-of-22) but missed three keys from the charity stripe in the final three minutes.
Jordan Strawberry led the way with 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting while Holland chipped in 14 points, seven assists and six rebounds despite going 3-of-10 from the field in the loss.
The Spartans return to action in less than 48 hours as they host The Citadel Saturday afternoon. Game time is set for 5 p.m. at the Greensboro Coliseum.
-- UNCG --