CHAMPIONS! Men’s Basketball Knocks Off ETSU 72-66 To Earn SoCon Title & Top Seed
GREENSBORO, N.C. – The UNCG men’s basketball team can call itself Southern Conference Champions as the Spartans tied the program-record with their 23rd victory of the season by knocking off previously first-place East Tennessee State 72-66 Monday night in the regular season finale at the Greensboro Coliseum.
The victory improves the Spartans to 23-8 overall on the season and 14-4 in SoCon play, moving UNCG into a three-way tie atop the standings. The Spartans are the league’s top seed in the upcoming SoCon Tournament by virtue of holding all the tiebreakers against ETSU (24-7, 14-4 SoCon) and Furman, courtesy of their 3-1 record against those two teams, including the sweep of the Buccaneers.
The Spartans enter the SoCon Tournament as the top seed for the first time in program history and will begin play in the quarterfinal round Saturday, playing the winner of No. 8 Western Carolina and No. 9 The Citadel at noon at the U.S. Cellular Center. ETSU falls to the No. 3 seed and will face sixth-seeded Mercer in the quarterfinals.
The championship is the third in program history in SoCon play and the first overall championship as the past two championships were North Division titles in 2001-02 and 2011-12. The 23 victories ties the program-record at the NCAA Division I level with the 1994-95 team while the 14 SoCon wins extends the Spartans’ already program-record. Additionally, the win was the seventh straight for the Spartans, marking their third winning streak of six or more games this year and their second streak of seven games.
Sophomore guard Francis Alonso (Malaga, Spain/Cushing Academy) led four Spartans in double figures in the victory with a game-high 23 points in 29 minutes. Alonso connected on 5-of-12 from the field, 4-of-6 from 3-point land and 9-o-11 from the free throw line. The Spartans improve to 12-0 on the year when he his four or more 3-pointers and he now has 92 made 3-pointers on the season, second-most in program history and just one shy of the record held by Scott Hartzell (1994-95).
Senior center R.J. White (Frisco, Texas/Frisco) recorded a double-double for the second straight game and the fourth time this season. White scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, helping the Spartans hold a 39-35 edge on the glass in the victory. He finished the night 6-of-13 from the field, including 3-of-7 from 3-point land raising his season total to eight 3-pointers against the Bucs in two games.
Senior guard Diante Baldwin (Greensboro, N.C./High Point Christian) capped a successful senior night with 13 points, six assists and three steals as he was 5-of-6 from the free throw line in the second half. Junior forward Marvin Smith (Richmond, Va./Fork Union Military Academy) added 13 points, including three 3-pointers. Redshirt freshman James Dickey (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God) grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds to go along with six points and four blocked shots.
The Spartans finished the night shooting 39.7 percent (23-of-58) from the field but hit 43.5 percent (10-of-23) from 3-point land. UNCG also connected on 16-of-24 (66.7%) from the free throw line, hitting five out of its last six in the final 40.1 seconds to seal the victory.
UNCG held the high-scoring Buccaneers to 40.7 percent (24-of-59) shooting from the field and just 21.4 percent (3-of-14) from 3-point land. Hanner Mosquera-Perea led the Bucs with 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field and the free throw line. Tevin Glass added 14 points and seven rebounds while A.J. Merriweather chipped in 13 points.
The Spartans started strongly against the Buccaneers as White hit two early 3-pointers as UNCG held an early 8-7 lead. The teams battled back and forth with ETSU taking an 18-13 lead with five straight points, with back-to-back layups from T.J. Cromer and Merriweather.
UNCG answered back with a 9-2 run to take a 22-20 lead as it hit three straight 3-pointers. Smith hit a pair from distance while Alonso hit one from deep. ETSU came right back and scored the next six points, taking a 26-22 lead when Merriweather hit a 3-pointer in the corner.
The Spartans closed the final 2:45 of the first half on a 9-2 run to take a 31-28 lead into the locker room. Alonso started the run at the free throw line while Dickey scored in the post. Baldwin scored four straight points as the Spartans took a 3-point lead into the break.
UNCG connected on 37.9 percent (11-of-29) from the field and 41.7 percent (5-of-12) from 3-point land in the first half. White led with way with nine points and five rebounds while Smith chipped in eight points. ETSU connected on 39.3 percent (11-of-28) from the field and 25 percent (2-of-8) from distance in the first half. Merriweather led with eight points while Tevin Glass tallied six points.
The Spartans came out of the halftime break and broke the game open with a 15-3 run to take a 46-31 lead and force ETSU into a timeout. White started things by scoring in the paint on the first possession before Smith hit another 3-pointer. Alonso took over from there, scoring eight straight points, including two 3-pointers with ETSU defenders draped all over him.
UNCG would extend the lead all the way out to 16 at 55-39 with 12:25 on a Dickey dunk, but ETSU did not go away. The Buccaneers responded with a 20-4 run to tie the game at 59-59 with 3:45 remaining. The Spartans committed six turnovers during the 8:40 stretch, while shooting just 1-of-12 during the span. Glass ignited the Buccaneers by scoring eight early in the run to bring the deficit to single digits before Mosquera-Perea scored four straight to cap the run, tying the game at 59-59.
The Spartans showed their character and scored the next five points, all from Alonso to take the lead back for good. Alonso hit a pair of free throws with 3:30 left and then after an offensive rebound by Baldwin kept the Spartans’ next possession going, Alonso buried a 3-pointer with 2:25 remaining for the 64-59 lead.
ETSU had chances to cut into the UNCG lead but Mosquera-Perea hit just one of two from the free throw line twice, narrowing the gap to 67-63 with 1:20 left. The Spartans worked the clock down before Baldwin took a contested 3-pointer that was off the mark. Glass came down with the rebound but Baldwin was able to strip the ball away for the turnover forcing ETSU to foul. He calmly hit both free throws as UNCG went on an 8-2 run over the final 35 seconds to extend the lead to 72-63. Smith capped the night and started the celebration with a breakaway dunk with 15 seconds remaining to seal the Spartans’ victory and championship.
-- UNCG --