ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Junior guard Francis Alonso (Malaga, Spain/Cushing Academy) hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 19.2 seconds remaining as the top-seeded UNCG men’s basketball team survived fifth-seeded Wofford by a 56-55 final in the semifinal round of the 2018 Southern Conference Tournament in Asheville.
The Spartans now advance to the SoCon Tournament Championship game Monday night where the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament will be on the line. The Spartans will face No. 2 ETSU in a rematch of last year's championship game at 9 p.m. in the U.S. Cellular Center and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2 nation-wide. This marks the second-straight year UNCG has advanced to the SoCon Tournament title game and the fourth time in program history making an appearance.
“What a basketball game we just played,” head coach Wes Miller said. “First, I have to say that team we just played in Wofford is one heck of a team and program. I have to tip my cap to Wofford as that feels like one of the harder games I have ever coached.”
The victory improves the Spartans to 26-7 overall on the season with their 26 wins being a new program-record for UNCG, surpassing last year’s 25-win total. The two-year total of 51 wins is the most all-time for UNCG in program history.
The Spartans’ top-ranked defense held the Terriers to just 55 points, the second-lowest scoring output of the year for Wofford and the lowest since the season-opening loss to South Carolina (52). UNCG held the Terriers to just 36.7 percent (18-of-49) shooting from the field and only 28 percent (7-of-25) from distance in the victory. The Spartans forced 11 turnovers by the Terriers and turned those miscues into 19 points. UNCG also won the rebounding battle by a 39-33 margin, including 14 offensive rebounds as it sored 21 second-chance points.
“As far as our group, we talked about building a defensive mentality from day one and we took some steps and grew a bit as a team defensively tonight,” Miler said. “Our effort and energy on defense is what kept us in game when shots weren’t falling or we made a mistake. I am really proud of our seniors for bringing lots of energy and passion today. They gave us the lift that we needed.”
The Spartans found themselves trailing the Terriers 55-53 with 1:24 remaining in the game after Cameron Jackson hit a pair of free throws. Senior forward Marvin Smith (Richmond, Va./Fork Union Military Academy) had a look at a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession but it was off the mark. The Spartans’ defense came up with a stop on the other end, forcing Jackson into a wild shot as the shot clock was expiring giving UNCG another chance.
The Spartans called a timeout with 31 seconds remaining and got the ball into the hands of Alonso. He was able to create some space off the dribble with Fletcher Magee guarding him and buried the go-ahead 3-pointer with 19.2 seconds remaining, just his third 3-pointer of the night and first in the second half. The Spartan defense came up big in the closing seconds, forcing Wofford into three missed jump shots before Smith corralled the final rebound as time expired sending the Spartans home victorious.
“Francis didn’t have his best shooting night tonight but he made the big one when it mattered and made some plays down the stretch,” Miller said. “There is nobody I would rather have the ball with the game on the line than Francis Alonso and our team feels that way as well. His teammates gave him the confidence to hit that shot tonight.”
Alonso finished the game tied for a team-high 13 points while handing out three assists as he was just 5-of-15 from the field but hit two out of his last three shots from the field in the final 3:39. Junior guard Demetrius Troy (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God) also scored 13 points with 11 coming in the second half. Troy connected on 4-of-5 from the field and 2-of-3 from distance in the final 20 minutes of the game.
The Spartans finished the day shooting 35 percent (21-of-60) from the field and just 28.6 percent (8-of-28) from deep. Smith added eight points and five rebounds while senior forward Jordy Kuiper (Groningen, Netherlands/Canaries Basketball Academy) added eight points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Magee led Wofford with 14 points but was 5-of-16 from the field while Storm Murphy added 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting.
The win also marked the fifth-straight for the Spartans against the Terriers, the longest such streak in series history. It also marked the second-straight year UNCG has advanced to the SoCon Tournament championship game by defeating the Terriers in the semifinal round.
-- UNCG --