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MACON, Ga. – UNCG women’s basketball was outscored 38-11 in the last 14 minutes of the game and fell at Mercer 80-57 on Thursday night at Hawkins Arena. Ije Ajemba (Lanham, Md./Old Dominion) extended her school record for double-doubles to 14 with 11 points and 20 rebounds, just one shy of her school-record set last Thursday against Wofford.

Aneka Yelverton (Suffolk, Va./Naval Academy Preparatory) gave the Spartans a 46-42 lead on a layup with four minutes left in the third quarter, but the Bears ended the quarter on a 12-0 run. Kahlia Lawrence scored 10 of the 12 points and ended the game with 23 points on 10-14 shooting from the field and 3-3 at the free throw line with each point coming in the second half.

“We didn’t let two or three players go off offensively,” said UNCG coach Trina Patterson. “Lawrence is a great player and got above her average, but we got her in foul trouble early. The score doesn’t reflect that it was very a close game, but I thought we were tough for 50% of the game.”

Mercer had an even bigger run, 21-5, that lasted almost eight minutes in the fourth quarter. After shooting 53.8% (7-13) from the field in the third quarter, UNCG shot just 30.0% (3-10) in the fourth quarter for 11 points.

“In the third quarter we shot the ball well, but Mercer shot it at 69%,” said Patterson. “I thought our defensive effort needed to be better in the quarter, and then they just took off. We couldn’t rebound from it. The positive from the game was that we were able to play with a good team for half of it, but we’ve got to learn to play longer.”

The Bears had the advantage in points in the paint (32-16), bench points (33-18) and points off turnovers (23-7) and fast break points (16-2) after forcing 21 Spartan turnovers with just seven themselves.

“Turnovers have been a thorn in our side,” said Patterson. “Turning the ball over against a good and aggressive defensive team on the road, we needed to be tougher with the ball. They didn’t press but just got out and really denied the wings to put a lot of pressure on us. We just have to handle that situation better.”

The Spartans started the game on an 11-0 run with points in each of the first five possessions. Ajemba split a pair of free throws, made a layup and assisted on a jumper by Nadine Soliman (Cairo, Egypt/Mokattam Language School). Alexus Willey (Waldorf, Md./Riverdale Baptist) was fouled on a three-point shot and made all three free throw attempts. Ajemba also made her presence quickly felt on the defensive end as well with three defensive rebounds and a block during the run.

“That was probably the best start we’ve had against Mercer,” said Patterson. “We stayed even with them for the first 20 minutes. I was proud of our effort in that span.”

The Bears responded with a 7-3 run and ended the quarter on a 7-2 run in the last minute and a half to cut the Spartans’ lead at 22-18.

Mercer got its first lead of the game by scoring the first six points of the second quarter, but UNCG gained it back with a free throw by Ajemba and a three from Willey. The Bears scored the last basket for a 30-30 tie at halftime. 

Both teams shot well to start the third quarter. UNCG made seven of its first eight field goal attempts, and Mercer went 6-9 from the field in the first six minutes of the quarter before pulling away with its run to end the quarter.

UNCG finished the game 18-46 (39.1%) from the field, 5-10 from three (50.0%) and 16-24 (66.7%) from the charity stripe. Mercer had the edge on the glass with 39 rebounds, including 14 offensive boards, to UNCG’s 30 rebounds.

Ajemba and Te’ja Twitty (Rutherfordton, N.C./Rutherfordton-Spindale Central) were the only Spartans to score double-digit points as both each had 11. Ajemba had 17 of her 20 rebounds in the first half and also tied Alexis Pitchford (Orlando, Fla./Winter Park) for a team-high three assists. Willey produced nine points, and Mangela Ngandjui (Upper Marlboro, Md./Riverdale Baptist) and Yelverton both contributed seven points off the bench.

“Off the bench I thought Aneka made some big shots,” said Patterson. “Ije with her 20 rebounds was another very good effort, but we got outrebounded. We need to do a better job on the boards.”

UNCG heads to Birmingham, Ala. to face Samford on Saturday at 3:00 p.m.

-- UNCG --