Men’s Basketball Returns To Winning Way With 81-75 Victory At Samford
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The UNCG men’s basketball team snapped a season-high three-game losing streak Saturday afternoon as the Spartans went into Birmingham, Ala., and grabbed an 81-75 victory over Samford at the Pete Hanna Center. The back-and-forth game featured 18 lead changes and was tied 11 different times as the two teams went toe-to-toe for the second time this season.
The victory improves to the Spartans to 17-8 on the season and 8-4 in Southern Conference play, keeping UNCG alone in fourth place overall. The 17 victories for the Spartans marks the seventh-most wins in program history and the most wins since notching 18 victories in the 2004-05 season. The win also improved the Spartans to 4-2 on the road in SoCon play, their most road wins in league action since the 2011-12 season (four road wins).
“Today was a really good response by our team after what happened Thursday night,” head coach Wes Miller said. “I loved the way our guys approached practice yesterday, shoot around today and their preparation for the game. We were able to put it all together with our effort and our focus. It wasn’t an easy game by any stretch, but we found a way to beat a good team on the road.”
Senior center R.J. White (Frisco, Texas/Frisco) posted his 11th career double-double in the victory as he combined with senior guard Diante Baldwin (Greensboro, N.C./High Point Christian) to scored 43 of the Spartans’ 81 points. White posted 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as he was 8-of-11 from the field and 5-of-6 from the free throw line. Baldwin scored a game-high 22 points as he was 9-of-17 from the field, including three 3-pointers, two of which came late in the second half.
Sophomore guard Francis Alonso (Malaga, Spain/Cushing Academy) rounded out the Spartans in double figures scoring with 16 points as he hit five 3-pointers. His play helped the Spartans shoot 50 percent (7-of-14) from 3-point land in the second half after notching just 12.5 percent (2-of-16) from deep in the first half.
UNCG finished the night shooting 49.2 percent (29-of-59) from the field and out-rebounded the Bulldogs by a 35-32 margin. The Spartans also dished out 19 assists while only committing 10 turnovers with Alonso leading the way with six assists.
Samford (15-9, 6-5 SoCon) had its two-game winning streak snapped as the Bulldogs were held under their season scoring average. Samford connected on just 40 percent (20-of-50) from the field and 46.7 percent (7-of-15) from deep. The Bulldogs went to the free throw line 33 times, converting 84.8 percent. Wyatt Walker posted a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds while Darius Denzel-Dyson also double dipped with a team-high 18 points and 10 rebounds.
The first half was a back-and-forth affair featuring 14 lead changes and the score tied eight different times. The Spartans went early and often to White as he scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the opening half. White connected on 5-of-7 from the field and 3-of-4 from the free throw line in the opening 20 minutes.
Baldwin gave the Spartans a 36-34 lead heading into the locker room as he scored on a fast break dunk with 4.1 seconds remaining. Baldwin tallied 11 points in the first half on 5-of-10 shooting. UNCG connected on 45.2 percent (14-of-31) from the field but only hit 2-of-16 (12.5%) from 3-point land. The Spartans were 12-of-15 (80%) shooting inside the arc in the fist half.
Samford connected on 32.3 percent (10-of-31) from the field and only hit 22.2 percent (2-of-9) from distance. The Bulldogs were aided by the whistle as they hit 12-of-13 (92.3%) from the charity stripe in the opening half. Walker led the way with 10 points and seven rebounds while Justin Hopkins chipped in seven points off the bench.
The Spartans came out of the break and opened up to ta 41-36 lead when Alonso nailed a 3-pointer. Samford came back and quickly tied the game at 46-46 as Denzel-Dyson started to heat up. After a basket from junior forward Jordy Kuiper (Groningen, Netherlands/Canaries Basketball Academy), Samford got back-to-back 3-pointers from Alex Thompson and Triston Chambers to take a 52-48 lead and force a UNCG timeout.
The Bulldogs would extend their lead to 56-51 on a pair of Walker free throws before UNCG responded with an 11-0 run to take a 62-56 lead with 7:57 remaining. Junior forward Marvin Smith (Richmond, Va./Fork Union Military Academy) began the run with a much-needed 3-pointer. After a dunk by White tied the game, Baldwin scored on back-to-back possessions by getting into the paint and hitting a jumper. The Spartans ran their lead to six when Smith forced a turnover at midcourt and threw down a breakaway dunk for the 62-56 lead.
Samford kept battling and would trim the gap to 70-68 with 3:25 remaining as Josh Starkey hit a pair of free throws. The Spartans again had an answer, posting a 7-1 run to take a 77-69 lead with 52.0 seconds remaining in the game. White started the run by scoring four straight in the post before Alonso had the dagger, nailing a 3-pointer late in the shot clock to make it a three-possession game.
UNCG would hit enough free throws in the final 52 seconds to secure the victory and got a key offensive rebound with 15.4 seconds remaining on a missed free throw that essentially sealed the victory. Smith finished the game with seven points, three rebounds and two blocked shots despite battling through four trouble for most of the game.
“Marvin was phenomenal late in the game playing with four fouls,” Miller said. “He came up with two big offensive rebounds late in the game that allowed us to work some more clock off and hit a big 3-pointer for us in the second half.”
The Spartans will now have a week off before they return to action next Saturday with a road trip to Western Carolina. Game time is set for 2 p.m. in Cullowhee.
“We have to make the most of this week and get all of our responsibilities together,” Miller said. “We have seven days before we play so we can get some rest, get better in practice and take care of our business in the classroom before we are back in action next Saturday at Western Carolina.”
-- UNCG --