Men’s Basketball Moves On To SoCon Championship Game Monday Night
ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Survive and advance is the motto of the week and the UNCG men’s basketball team has accomplished that feat twice in two days as the top-seeded Spartans won a hard-fought 77-73 victory over fifth-seeded Wofford Sunday evening at the U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville to advance to their third Southern Conference Tournament Championship game in program history and the first since 2005.
The Spartans will battle third-seeded ETSU in the championship game Monday night in Asheville and the game will be nationally televised on ESPN. With the win Sunday, the Spartans improve to a program-record 25-8 on the season by winning their ninth-straight game. The nine-game winning streak is the longest in program history for the Spartans at the NCAA Division I level and the third longest winning streak overall in the 50-year history of the program.
“I was really proud of my group in the second half,” head coach Wes Miller said. “We challenged them at halftime to raise their level of energy defensively to build out their pressure. I knew [Wofford] would make some big plays. They are a tough team to defend because they always keep moving and keep screening. I am proud of my team tonight. They stayed in that next-play mentality. I am really proud of the way my team fought to win a really tough game to get to the championship.”
Senior guard Diante Baldwin (Greensboro, N.C./High Point Christian) led three Spartans in double figures in the victory. Baldwin scored a game-high 22 points in 36 minutes as he was 8-of-16 from the field and hit 5-of-8 from the free throw line. Sophomore guard Francis Alonso (Malaga, Spain/Cushing Academy) added 17 points and five rebounds as he shook off an off night shooting from deep (1-7) by hitting 8-of-8 from the free throw line.
Junior forward Marvin Smith (Richmond, Va./Fork Union Military Academy) had a big game as well on both ends of the floor. Smith scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds as he was 5-of-7 from the field and 3-of-4 from 3-point land. Smith also spent all night guard Wofford leading scorer Fletcher Magee. He made Magee work hard for his 22 points on 6-of-15 shooting from the field.
The Spartans (25-8) finished the night shooting 49.1 percent (28-of-57) from the field and hit just 30 percent (6-of-20) from beyond the arc. The Spartans were strong from the free throw line, hitting 83.3 percent (15-of-18). For the second straight game in the SoCon Tournament, the Spartans dominated play in the paint, out-scoring Wofford 42-26 in the paint and holding a 36-26 advantage on the glass.
“I thought we played with poise down the stretch,” Miler said. “We pushed the lead to nine, and we had some offensive possessions that we executed really well, but for whatever reason we didn’t make the play. We did not score, but I liked our execution. And then [Wofford] made some good plays on the other end, and sometimes that can be deflating because you executed, you got a good look, you got the ball where you wanted, and you didn’t score. Our guys did a great job in staying in the next play regardless what happened. It is something we preach, we practice and we talk about. These guys really bought into it, and they executed that type of mentality tonight.”
Wofford (16-17) connected on 46.4 percent (26-of-56) from the field and 38.1 percent (8-of-21) from 3-point land. The Terriers committed 11 turnovers, which the Spartans turned into 15 points. Cameron Jackson added 17 points and five rebounds on 7-of-11 shooting from the field. Eric Garcia was limited to just eight points on 2-of-6 shooting from the field but dished out a career-high 12 assists.
The game started quickly with both teams hitting shots as the game was tied 13-13 at the 15:13 mark. The Spartans turned in the game’s first run with an 8-2 spurt to take a 21-15 lead. Junior forward Jordy Kuiper (Groningen, Netherlands/Canaries Basketball Academy) started the run by hitting a 3-pointer before Smith answered with another long-range shot and Alonso scored off a drive.
Wofford responded with 12 straight points to take a 27-21 lead and fore the Spartans into a timeout. Jaylen Allen sparked the Terriers with five straight points while Matthew Pegram and Ryan Sawvell both hit mid-range jumpers to extend the lead to six.
Wofford extended the lead to nine at 36-27 with 3:00 minutes left before the Spartans closed the half on an 8-3 run. Baldwin and Kuiper ignited the surge with back-to-back baskets before Alonso hit a pair of free throws. Baldwin closed the half with a pull-up jumper with 37 seconds left to send UNCG into the locker room trailing just 39-35.
The Spartans connected on 56 percent (14-of-25) from the field and out-rebounded the Terriers 16-10 in the half but committed 10 turnovers to lead to deficit. Wofford connected on 51.6 percent (16-of-31) from the field and hit four 3-pointers in the opening half while only having three turnovers.
Wofford extended the lead back to eight at 43-35 early in the second half before the Spartans took the lead back for good with a 22-7 run to lead 57-50 with 13:40 remaining. UNCG connected on 9-of-13 (69.2%) from the field during the run while holding the Terriers to just 3-of-8 (37.5%) shooting and forcing four turnovers in the 5:42 stretch.
Alonso got things going with his only 3-pointer of the night before Kuiper converted a 3-point play to narrow the gap to 45-43. Baldwin gave the Spartans the lead with five straight points, including a steak and fast break layup to give UNCG the lead for good. The Spartans continued the run with a dunk from redshirt freshman forward James Dickey (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God) before Smith capped the flurry with five straight, including a 3-pointer for the seven-point lead.
Sophomore guard Demetrius Troy (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God) gave the Spartans’ their largest lead of the night with an old-fashioned 3-point play off an offensive rebound for the 62-53 lead with 9:53 remaining. Wofford showed its fight with a 12-4 run to narrow the UNCG lead to 66-65. Magee started to heat up as he scored eight of the 12 points during the run and Jackson had a 3-point play.
The game was nip and tuck down the stretch with UNCG hold a 71-70 lead with 1:54 remaining after two Magee free throws. Senior center R.J. White (Frisco, Texas/Frisco) came up with a big play with 56 seconds remaining as he took a pass from Dickey in the post and hammered home a dunk for a 73-70 lead. The Spartans forced a turnover as Nathan Hoover stepped on the sideline on the ensuing possession and Baldwin hit a free throw to make it a two-possession game.
After a missed 3-pointer by Garcia, Alonso nailed two free throws to extend the lead to 76-70. Magee would hit a deep 3-pointer with 10 seconds remaining but Baldwin iced the game by hitting one of two free throws to make it a two-possession game ending any doubt.
Kuiper finished the game with eight points off the bench in 23 minutes of action as he was 3-of-6 from the field. White added eight points while battling foul trouble all game long and Dickey chipped in six points and seven rebounds
-- UNCG --