GREENSBORO, N.C. – Sophomore guard Alexus Willey (Waldorf, Md./Riverdale Baptist) scored a career-high 20 points and shot 8-for-13 from the field as UNCG dropped a 71-69 matchup with the Tusculum Pioneers Tuesday. Willey and the Spartans played in front of a Fleming Gymnasium record 1,465 fans as part of Education Day. This is the second annual Education Day for UNCG women’s basketball, shattering last season’s attendance record by 458 fans.
UNCG partnered with Lindley and Hunter Elementary schools and Turrentine Middle School to set the new attendance record. As part of “The Spartan Way” strategic plan, Education Day has been and will continue to be a community engagement event, with the potential for more schools to be added for future games. The event also features a presentation from UNCG admissions to the students in attendance.
“I thought Tusculum wanted it more today.” Head coach Trina Patterson said, “They had more passion and energy than we did today. Our third quarter woes are something we need to address. It came back to bite us against Norfolk State last week too, its something we have to fix as a team and a staff. Right now we have to find ourselves, the youth is really showing up. The inability to sustain our intensity for four quarters is a matter of maturity. We need to stay disciplined and be consistent for four quarters.”
Along with Willey, Nadine Soliman (Cairo, Egypt/Mokattam Language) tallied double digits, scoring 19 points to go with five rebounds. Ije Ajemba (Lanham, Md./Old Dominion) led all competitors with 12 rebounds, blocked two shots and scored nine points.
The Spartans came out of the gates hot as they shot 71-percent from the field in the first ten minutes. Willey and Soliman finished with identical lines of 3-for-4 with each connecting from distance in the opening frame. UNCG took its biggest lead of the day at 19-6 after Mangela Ngandjui (Upper Marlboro, Md./Riverdale Baptist) hit her first jumper of the day with 3:36 remaining in the quarter. Tusculum responded, to close the quarter out on a 14-5 run to trim the lead down to 24-20.
Tusculum’s Sydney Wilson helped will the Pioneers back into game as she scored 10 of her 18 points in the second quarter. Wilson went 3-for-5 from three-point range in the quarter and tied the game up at 26 on her first three pointer of the quarter. Wilson had an answer every time UNCG tried to go on a run as she took a one-point lead with 3:07 remaining after getting another three pointer to fall. After Ngandjui navigated traffic to put UNCG back up three, Wilson responded to tie the game up at 38 with her third three of the quarter. With less than a minute remaining in the half, Soliman maneuvered the Pioneer defense to send UNCG to the half up 42-40.
UNCG came out of halftime cold, hitting just 25-percent from the field in the third quarter. The Pioneers took advantage of UNCG’s slow start to take its largest lead of the day at 56-49 after Yolizma Cupidan hit a layup in the final minute of the quarter.
The Spartans got back in it the fourth quarter. After giving up a Callie Patterson three-pointer, the Spartans went on a 6-0 run over the next 36 seconds and tied the game at 59. UNCG’s defense fueled the run, getting Tusculum to take contested shot attempts and Soliman grabbed one of her two steals in the run. Willey put UNCG back in front after hitting two free throws with 6:00 remaining, but Tusculum ran its lead back out to seven after Kasey Johnson hit a jumper in the paint with 2:18 left. Willey again tried to bring UNCG back, bring the Spartans within one after converting the three-point play at 69-68. After an Aneka Yelverton (Suffolk, Va./Naval Preparatory School) foul, Lovely Locklear knocked down both free throws to take the 71-68 lead with four seconds left.
The Spartans had a chance to tie it at the free throw line after Soliman drew a foul with 0.9 seconds left. Soliman hit the first of three attempts, but missed the second and was called for a lane violation the third.
The Spartans return to action Thursday for another matinee matchup, as they will take on the Presbyterian Blue Hose at noon in Clinton, South Carolina.