GREENSBORO, N.C. – The UNCG men’s basketball team held off a late rally by Mercer as the Spartans picked up a 70-66 overtime victory over the Bears Saturday evening at the Greensboro Coliseum. Mercer rallied from a seven-point deficit in the final minute of regulation to force overtime but the Spartans out-scored the Bears 15-11 in the overtime period.
The victory improves the Spartans to 14-5 overall on the season and 5-1 in Southern Conference play, maintaining second place in the standings. The win also marks the third-straight for UNCG and improves the Spartans to 10-1 at home this season. The loss drops Mercer, the preseason favorite to win the SoCon, to 10-10 on the year and 3-4 in league play.
UNCG’s defense came up big in the overtime period, holding Mercer to just 2-of-9 (22.2%) shooting from the field and 1-of-3 (33.3%) from deep in the extra frame. The Spartans opened the overtime period on an 8-0 run, squashing the momentum that Mercer had entering the extra session. Junior guard Demetrius Troy (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God) scored the first five points of the overtime period to swing the momentum back to the Spartans.
Troy finished with 12 points as he was one of three Spartans in double figures and one of six Spartans with eight of more points in the balanced scoring attack. Junior guard Francis Alonso (Malaga, Spain/Cushing Academy) added 17 points and six assists, hitting 3-of-7 form distance and 6-of-7 from the free throw line. Senior forward Marvin Smith (Richmond, Va./Fork Union Military Academy) added 15 points, 14 of which came after halftime, hitting three 3-pointers in the second half.
The Spartans finished the game shooting 38.6 percent (22-of-57) from the field and just 28.6 percent (8-of-28) from 3-point land. UNCG overcame the cold shooting by forcing Mercer into 18 turnovers on the night and held the Bears to just 20-of-50 (40%) shooting in the victory. Sophomore forward James Dickey (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God) scored nine points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked two shots.
The game started ragged as teams traded cold shooting in the first half with Mercer holding a 24-23 lead heading into the locker room. Neither team was strong offensively in the first half as defense and rebounding was the name of the game in the opening 20 minutes. The Spartans connected on just 29.6 percent (8-of-27) from the field and 3-of-13 (23.1%) from distance in the first half while Mercer hit 38.1 percent (8-of-21) from the field and 2-of-7 (28.6%) from distance.
The Spartans opened the second half on a 7-0 run to force Mercer into an early timeout as UNCG too a 30-24 lead just two minutes into the second half. Senior forward Jordy Kuiper (Groningen, Netherlands/Canaries Basketball Academy) opened the scoring in the second half with a hook shot in the paint while Smith capped the run with a 3-pointer in transition off an assist from Alonso.
The Spartans maintained a two-possession lead for most of the second half as each time Mercer pulled within three the Spartans had an answer. Smith responded to a Stephon Jelks 3-pointer with one of his own at the 8:36 mark giving the Spartans a 44-38 lead. The Bears would pull within two at 44-42 on an Ethan Stair 3-pointer, but Alonso scored 5-straight to extend the lead to 49-42 with 3:54 remaining in the second half.
UNCG held a seven-point lead and couldn’t extend it as both Alonso and Smith missed the front end of one-and-one free throws. After a pair of Mercer free throws, Troy gave UNCG a 53-46 lead with 48 seconds remaining. Ross Cummings came off the bench and hit back-to-back 3-pointers for the Bears to trim the UNCG lead to one at 53-52 with 34 seconds remaining.
Alonso hit two free throws for the 55-52 lead, but Jelks hit a 3-pointer with 19 seconds remaining to tie the game at 55-55. The Spartans had one last chance in regulation but Alonso’s shot through contact in the closing seconds rolled off the rim and sent the game into overtime.
UNCG opened the overtime period on an 8-0 run, holding Mercer without a point until 53 seconds remaining. Troy scored the first five points of the extra frame, including a 3-pointer at the 2:21 mark for the five-point lead. Alonso and Dickey hit 3-of-4 from the line for the 63-55 lead, but once again Mercer found a way to make things interesting. Smith and Alonso each hit two free throws in to match Mercer points, but a 3-pointer by Jordan Strawberry with 13 seconds remaining made it a 68-64 lead for UNCG.
Kuiper hit one of two from the free throw line and Marcus Cohen hit a pair to make it a one-possession game at 69-66 with six seconds left. Smith again hit one of two from the line to make it a two-possession game and the Spartans forced a turnover by Strawberry to seal the victory. Kuiper finished the game with eight points and four rebounds while freshman guard Isaiah Miller (Covington, Ga./Newton) added eight points off the bench in 17 minutes of play.
The Spartans wrap up their three-game home stretch Wednesday night when they host Furman. Game time is set for 7 p.m. at the Greensboro Coliseum as the Paladins enter the game just behind the Spartans in the standings with a 5-2 league record.
-- UNCG --