GREENSBORO, N.C. – The UNCG men’s basketball team is 2-0 in Southern Conference play for the first time since 2004-05 as the Spartans grinded out a 63-61 victory over VMI Saturday afternoon at Cameron Hall. The win improves UNCG to 11-4 on the season and marks its seventh win in the last eight games. The Spartans continue their three-game road swing Thursday evening when the travel to Johnson City, Tenn., for a meeting with ETSU. The game will be a rematch of the 2017 SoCon Tournament Championship game.
The Spartans picked up the win despite not making a field goal the final 8:10 of the game and shooting just 24.1 percent (7-of-29) from the field in the second half and going 0-of-14 from 3-point land in the final 20 minutes. UNCG came up with clutch stops on the defensive end and hit 10 of its last 11 from the free throw line, including a pair from junior guard Francis Alonso (Malaga, Spain/Cushing Academy) with 3.7 seconds remaining to give the Spartans the lead.
“We didn’t play our best basketball today,” head coach Wes Miller said. “Give credit to VMI for fighting and coming back on us. We didn’t shoot it well but we found a way to win today. It wasn’t pretty but getting on the bus with an ugly win is better than a going home with a loss.”
Alonso finished the game with a game-high 19 points as he was 6-of-7 from the free throw line and hit three 3-pointers, all in the first half. Sophomore forward James Dickey (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God) added 14 points and nine rebounds as he was 4-of-11 from the field. Dickey connected on 6-of-7 from the free throw line, including his last four in the closing minutes.
The Spartans’ defense entered the game as the top scoring defense in the SoCon and ranked 17th in the nation and lived up to their standing by holding the Keydets to 61 points. VMI connected on 38.8 percent (19-of-49) from the field and 36.8 percent (7-of-19) from deep in the game while committing 12 turnovers. UNCG dominated the glass by a 43-28 margin, including 13 offensive rebounds.
Bubba Parham led the Keydets with 19 points as he was 6-of-9 from the field, including a pair of 3-pointers. Austin Vereen shook off a slow start to finish with 14 points on 4-of-14 shooting. Vereen had the Keydets’ look at a game-winning shot at the buzzer as he half court heave was only inches off the mark.
The Spartans opened the game and jumped out to a 15-5 run just under six minutes into the contest. Six different Spartans scored in the opening run with Dickey capping the spurt with a dunk off an assist from freshman guard Isaiah Miller (Covington, Ga./Newton).
VMI (5-9, 0-3 SoCon) answered back with eight-straight points to pull within two at 15-13. Parham converted a 3-point play and Vereen hit from the outside to spark the Keydets. The Spartans came back and took a 27-16 lead with 5:44 left as they hit four-straight 3-pointers from four different players. UNCG took a 37-25 lead into the locker room as Alonso scored in the final seconds of the game, giving him 11 first half points. The Spartans connected on 7-of-10 (70%) from 3-point land in the opening half.
The second half saw UNCG lead by as many as 14 points before VMI started to chip away at the lead. The Spartans held a 53-43 lead with 8:10 remaining as Malik Massey (Charlotte, N.C./New Hampton Prep) scored off a drive. VMI posted a 14-2 run to take a 57-55 lead with 4:17 remaining when Fred Iruafemi hit a pair of free throws. The run was ignited as Vereen converted a 4-point play and hit another shot from the outside for seven of the points during the stretch.
After VMI held a 59-57 lead, Dickey hit two free throws tying the game and Alonso gave the Spartans a 61-59 lead with 1:33 remaining converting on two at the charity stripe. Vereen tied the game once again with 22.5 seconds left as he hit a pair of free throws to knot the game at 61-61. Alonso had the ball in his hands in the closing seconds of the half and was fouled on a 3-pointer. He hit two out of three from the line for the 63-61 lead and Vereen’s half court heave was off the mark preserving the UNCG victory.
Senior forward Marvin Smith (Richmond, Va./Fork Union Military Academy) scored seven points and grabbed seven rebounds in the win as eight different Spartans scored in the victory. Junior guard Demetrius Troy (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God) added seven points on 3-of-5 shooting while Massey finished with five points.
The Spartans finished the game shooting 38.6 percent (22-of-57) from the field and 29.2 percent (7-of-24) from 3-point land. UNCG connected on 12-of-14 (85.7 percent) from the free throw line, all coming in the second half.
-- UNCG --