Men’s Basketball Advances To SoCon Tournament Semifinals With Win Over The Citadel
ASHEVILLE, N.C. – The top-seeded UNCG men’s basketball team didn’t make it easy Saturday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the Southern Conference Tournament, but the Spartans survived a 3-point barrage from ninth-seeded The Citadel and advanced to the SoCon Tournament semifinals with a 76-67 victory at the U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville. The Spartans will now No. 5 Wofford Sunday at 5 p.m. in the first semifinal game. The Terriers knocked off No. 4 Chattanooga, 79-67.
“For us, it’s just about finding a way to win this time of year,” head coach Wes Miller said. “We really responded in the second half. We were a little out of sync in the first half. Defensively, we had a lot of breakdowns, but I thought our guys really responded in the second half. Our seniors really led the charge for us and it was a team effort with multiple guys going to the glass. The backboards were a huge factor for us today and James Dickey was all over the place.”
The victory gives the Spartans a program-record 24 win in a season, raising their mark to 24-8 on the year. The 24 wins are the most in the 50-year history of UNCG, surpassing the previous mark of 23 wins set in 1994-95. The semifinal appearance is the eighth time UNCG has advanced to that round including the first since 2013. Additionally, the win is the eighth straight for UNCG, tying the UNCG record at the NCAA Division I level and the third longest in program-history.
The Spartans weathered the 3-point barrage in large part to their domination on the boards and in the paint. UNCG out-rebounded the Bulldogs by a 51-36 margin and out-scored The Citadel 40-41 in the pain. Senior center R.J. White (Frisco, Texas/Frisco) led the way with fifth double-double of the season and third straight, scoring a game-high 21 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. White connected on 10-of-16 from the field, including seven dunks against the Bulldogs, while also posting five blocks.
Redshirt freshman forward James Dickey (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God) set a UNCG SoCon Tournament record with 19 rebounds, including eight on the offensive glass. His 19 rebounds surpasses the previous UNCG mark of 17 set by David Schuck in 2001. Dickey finished with eight points and three blocked shots as he was 4-of-8 from the field.
Junior forward Marvin Smith (Richmond, Va./Fork Union Military Academy) added 14 points and five assists as he hit three 3-pointers. Senior guard Diante Baldwin (Greensboro, N.C./High Point Christian) added 12 points, six assist and three steals as UNCG had four payers in double figures scoring.
Sophomore guard Francis Alonso (Malaga, Spain/Cushing Academy) rounded out the lineup with 11 points and four assists. Alonso hit three 3-pointers on the day and became UNCG’s single-season record holder with 95 made 3-pointers this season. He broke the previous record of 93 made 3-pointers by Scott Hartzell in the 1994-95 season. In his two seasons, he already ranks seventh in program history with 180 career 3-pointers made.
UNCG finished the game shooting 42.3 percent (30-of-71) from the field and hit 32.3 percent (10-of-31) from 3-point land. The Spartans struggled at the free throw line, hitting a season-worst 35.3 percent (6-of-17).
The Citadel (12-21) lived and died by the 3-pointer Saturday as the Bulldogs connected on 46.7 percent, hitting 14-of-30 from deep, including 61.5 percent (8-of-13) in the first half. The Bulldogs overall finished the game shooting just 36.9 percent (24-of-65) from the field, going just 10-of-35 (28.6%) on two-point shots.
Zane Najdawi led three in double figures with 18 points as he was 6-of-17 from the field but 3-of-7 from 3-point land. Matt Frierson added 15 points off the bench on 5-of-8 shooting from deep while Preston parks chipped in 12 points, including a pair of 3-pointers.
The Spartans came out of the gate and opened on a 12-3 run early as Baldwin hit two early 3-pointers before Smith scored four straight points. The Citadel responded with a 20-6 run to take a 23-19 lead and force the Spartans into a timeout. Najdawi led the way with eight points, including a pair of 3-pointers while Frankie Johnson capped the spurt with a 3-pointer.
The Spartans came back and tied the game at 30-30 when Dickey scored off a nice pass from sophomore guard Demetrius Troy (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God) for a dunk. The Citadel closed the first half on a 9-5 run as Brian White came off the bench and hit 3-pointers and Najdawi added a long-range shot for his third of the first half.
The second half saw the Spartans come out and dominate play in the paint, out-scoring the Bulldogs 26-4 in the second half and out-rebounding them by a 29-16 margin. UNCG opened the second half on a 9-3 run to take a 44-42 lead. Smith started it with a 3-pointer before White scored on three straight dunks to give UNCG the lead.
Frierson started to heat up from the outside, hitting five from deep in the second half but the Spartans weathered the storm with White answering on the other end with 14 second half points. The game went back-and-forth with the Spartans trailing 59-58 with 6:54 remaining after a Tom Koopman free throw.
The Spartans swung the game and the momentum with an 11-1 run to take the lead back for good at 69-60 with 3:22 remaining. Alonso started the run by hitting a 3-pointer and scoring off a drive before White had a big dunk against The Citadel pressure. UNCG’s defense kept the run going as Dickey blocked Najdawi’s attempted dunk and Baldwin came down on the other end and scored in transition.
The Spartans’ struggles at the free throw line almost hurt them late as it kept the door open for The Citadel, pulling the Bulldogs within five at 69-64. Smith and Baldwin ended any doubt by scoring on back-to-back transition dunks before Smith iced the game with two free throws with 1:08 remaining to send the Spartans to the semifinals.
-- UNCG --