MACON, Ga. – The UNCG men’s basketball team saw its five-game winning streak come to and end Saturday evening as the Spartans suffered a 77-74 Southern Conference defeat to Mercer at Hawkins Arena. Despite the loss, the Spartans maintain a two-game lead with three games remaining in the regular season on second place in the SoCon standings with a 21-7 overall record and a 12-3 mark in league play.
The Spartans had three score in double figures and six different players had at least eight points in the loss. Junior guard Demetrius Troy (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God) posted his first career double-double with 10 points and a career-high 10 assists. Junior guard Francis Alonso (Malaga, Spain/Cushing Academy) added a team-high 18 points, 16 of which came in the second half, as he hit 4-of-10 from 3-point land.
UNCG connected on 25-of-54 (46.3%) from the field and 48 percent (12-of-25) from 3-point land in the loss. The Bears were led by Jordan Strawberry who scored a team-high 27 points, including a perfect 11-of-11 from the free throw line as Mercer connected on 24-of-29 (82.8) from the charity stripe as a team. Mercer finished the game shooting 53.5 percent (23-of-43) from the field and 43.8 percent (7-of-16) from distance.
Mercer (15-13, 8-7 SoCon) won its fifth-straight and started out the game hot, jumping out to a 25-9 lead on the Spartans. Ross Cummings got going early, scoring 10 points in the opening run while Jordan Strawberry added six points in the first 11 minutes of the game.
UNCG settled in and turn up the pressure on defense as the Spartans closed the half on a 21-6 run to head into the locker room only trailing by one at 31-30. Troy and senior Marvin Smith (Richmond, Va./Fork Union Military Academy) hit early 3-pointers in the run while senior forward Garrett Collins (Asheville, N.C./Fishburne Military Academy) came off the bench for two consecutive 3-pointers providing a spark for the Spartans.
UNCG came out of the halftime break and scored the first four points of the half, taking its first lead of the day. The Spartans opened the half on a 10-4 run to take a 40-35 lead as Alonso started to heat up, hitting a pair of 3-pointers. Mercer responded and narrowed the gap to 42-40 on a basket by Strawberry.
The Spartans extended the lead to 49-40 with a 7-0 run, capped by back-to-back dunks by sophomore Kyrin Galloway (Milton, Ga./Milton) and freshman Isaiah Miller (Covington, Ga./Newton) forcing a Mercer timeout. The Spartans maintained their lead at 59-53 with 9:11 remaining before Mercer swung the game again with a run.
The Bears posted a 13-3 run to take a 66-62 lead with 4:58 remaining. The Spartans had two chances early in the run to squash the momentum, getting steals on the defensive end but being unable to convert on the offensive end missing a 3-pointer and having a shot blocked at the rim. Strawberry was the catalyst, scoring seven points during the stretch, including a 3-point play in transition. Cummings lifted the Bears to the lead with back-to-back 3-pointers late in the shot clock each time.
The Spartans kept battling back and pulled within one at 68-67 on a Smith 3-pointer with 2:57 remaining. Strawberry responded with a 3-point play and Mercer hits its free throws down the stretch to keep the Spartans at distance. Alonso hit a 3-poitner with 31 seconds remaining to again pull within one but Strawberry hit a pair of the line.
Sophomore James Dickey (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God) scored in the paint with 7.2 seconds remaining to make it a 75-74 Mercer lead but Strawberry added two more at the charity stripe to extend the lead to three. The Spartans had two looks at a potential game-tying 3-pointer but both of Alonso’s shots were off the mark, sending the Bears to victory.
Dickey finished the game with 11 points, five rebounds and three blocked shots, as he was 3-of-3 from the field and 5-of-7 from the free throw line. Miller added nine points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals off the bench while Smith chipped in eight points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Senior forward Jordy Kuiper (Groningen, Netherlands/Canaries Basketball Academy) also added eight points in the loss.
The Spartans close out the road portion of the regular season Tuesday evening when they travel to Spartanburg, S.C., for a meeting with Wofford. Game time is set for 7 p.m.
-- UNCG --