LYNCHBURG, Va. – UNCG men’s basketball junior guard Francis Alonso (Malaga, Spain/Cushing Academy) scored a career-high 36 points and saved his best for last hitting a contested runner in the lane with 2.4 seconds left in triple overtime to lift the Spartans to a hard-fought and much deserved 76-75 victory over Liberty Saturday afternoon at the Vines Center. The game marks the second triple overtime game in prorgram history and the first since playing at Elon in 2004.
“I challenged our guys really hard before this game because we were disappointed after last game (Presbyterian) and our guys really responded,” head coach Wes Miller said. “Liberty is a really good team and they made it really tough on us tonight, but I love the response by our guys. I am most proud of our team for winning a game even when our shots weren’t falling. We shot 30 percent and still found a way to win. Good teams are able to overcome a tough night shooting and find a way to win. That is what we did tonight, locking in on defense to get the job done.”
Alonso scored 31 of his 36 points after halftime, overcoming a slow start to set a new career-high and score over 30-points for the third time this year. He finished the game shooting 10-of-31 from the field, 7-of-19 from 3-point land and 9-of-11 from the free throw line in 38 minute of action.
“Francis is a special player and hit some really big shots today,” Miller said. “Francis wants the ball in big situations and today, he came up huge in those moments.”
Alonso’s 36-points scored are the most for a Spartan since Trevis Simpson scored 41 against Chattanooga in 2013. He is the first Spartan since Kyle Hines in 2006-07 to score 30-points in a game three times in one season.
The Spartans rallied from an 11-point second half deficit and used last-second tying 3-pointers from Alonso to force the first and third overtime periods. UNCG found itself down 44-33 with 4:36 remaining in the second half and trailed by seven at 48-41 with 1:37 left. The Spartans closed the second half on an 11-4 run to send the game into overtime.
Sophomore guard Malik Massey (Charlotte, N.C./New Hampton Prep) scored five-straight for the Spartans in the run to make it a 1-point game, including a big 3-pointer to give UNCG hope. The Spartans pulled within one at 50-49 with 13.2 seconds remaining after a pair of Alonso free throws. Liberty extended the lead to 52-49 with two free throws by Lovell Cabbil with 12.6 remaining. Alonso tied the game with 5.4 second remaining at 52-52 as he nailed a contested 3-pointer and the Spartans held the Flames on defense to go into overtime.
The first overtime saw the teams go back-and-forth with the Spartans taking a 58-56 lead with 15 seconds left in the period as Alonso hit one of two from the free throw line. Scottie James hit a pair of free throws with 2.1 seconds left to tie the game sending it into the second overtime period.
In the second overtime, the Spartans tool the early lead on an Alonso 3-pointer and some free throws as UNCG went up 64-60 with 3:35 remaining. Liberty fought back and scored the game’s next eight points to take a 68-64 lead with 21 seconds remaining. Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz hit a big 3-pointer for the Flames while Cabbil knocked down a pair of free throws with 21 seconds left.
Alonso nailed a 3-pointer to make it 68-67 Liberty with 15 seconds left in the second overtime before Cabbil put the Flames back up three with 13 seconds left. Alonso again came up big as he nailed a fade away 3-pointer with 5.3 seconds remaining to send the game into the third overtime period.
The third overtime saw each teams trade free throws with Alonso putting UNCG up 74-71 with 1:50 remaining with two from the charity stripe. Liberty pulled within one with at 74-73 on a basket from Isaiah Williams and after a stop, Ryan Kemrite hit a pair of free throws giving the Flames a 75-74 lead with 9.1 seconds remaining. The Spartans ran the game’s final play and Alonso was able to get into the paint before pulling up and nailing a floater through contact giving UNCG a 76-75 lead with 2.4 seconds remaining. Liberty’s desperation half court shot fell short sending the Spartans to victory.
UNCG’s heart and grit overcame a tough shooting night as the Spartans finished the game shooting just 30.4 percent (24-of-79) from the field and 26.8 percent (11-of-41) from 3-point land in the victory. The Spartans held Liberty to 32.8 percent (19-of-58) shooting from the field and only 17.4 percent (4-of-23) from 3-point land. UNCG forced the Flames into 21 turnovers, converting those miscues into 25 points off turnovers.
“We locked in on defense today and made it hard on Liberty to score,” Miller said. “We caused some issues with our pressure defense and then in the overtime periods our zone caused them problems. Our guys bought into the fight and effort today, that is the way we need to play to win big games.”
Freshman guard Isaiah Miller (Covington, Ga./Newton) scored 13 points, grabbed six rebounds and posted five steals off the bench in 24 minutes before fouling out in the second half. Sophomore forward James Dickey (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God) grabbed a team-high 14 rebounds, scored six points and posted three blocked shots in 42 minutes of play. Dickey held the Spartans grab 17 offensive rebounds as he led the way with six on the offensive glass.
Scottie James led Liberty with 19 points and 15 rebounds before fouling out in the third overtime. James was 9-of-12 from the free throw line in 48 minutes. Cabbil added 16 points as he was 12-of-13 from the line, overcoming a 2-of-15 shooting night from the field.
The Spartans return home for a pair of games against in-state foes Elon and UNCW. UNCG will host Triad rival Elon December 7 at the Greensboro Coliseum.
-- UNCG --