Sophomore Kayel Locke scored a team-high 19 points against NC State in the Spartans' four-point loss Monday night.
Sophomore Kayel Locke scored a team-high 19 points against NC State in the Spartans' four-point loss Monday night.
Courtesy: Photo Courtesy of Tim Cowie

Comeback Attempt Falls Short For Menís Basketball Versus NC State 12-30-2013

GREENSBORO, N.C. – The UNCG men’s basketball team rallied from a 17-point second half deficit and pulled within two points in the final minute, before suffering a 68-64 loss to Atlantic Coast Conference member NC State Monday night in front of 5,989 fans at the Greensboro Coliseum.

The loss ends a three-game stretch for the Spartans against ACC teams where they posted a 1-2 record with an eight-point loss at Wake Forest, a three-point win at Virginia Tech and tonight’s four-point loss to NC State. The Spartans enter Southern Conference play Thursday night with a 7-8 record on the year as they travel to Cullowhee for a meeting against Western Carolina.

“This is a tough loss tonight because it felt like it was right there for us,” head coach Wes Miller said. “I am really proud of the way my guys played and competed -- down 17 and to make it a one possession game in the final minute. We did something tonight we haven’t been able to do this year -- battling our way back from a deficit like that. My team has done a really good job in a short period of time of coming together as a team. We have taken steps in the right direction and we need to build on that heading into conference.”

Sophomore forward Kayel Locke (Baltimore, Md./McDonogh) continued his strong play in his career against NC State, scoring a team-high 19 points while grabbing six rebounds. Locke, who scored 21 points in the loss at NC State last season, connected on 6-of-12 from the field and 7-of-11 from the free throw line.

“Kayel was fantastic,” Miller said. “He had a good game at NC State last year and followed that up with another impressive performance tonight. He is so strong in the post that he can hold his position, get low against taller guys and he has great feet to use his quickness to get around the defenders. He did a great job on both ends of the floor tonight.”

Freshman guard Tevon Saddler (Aberdeen, Md./St. Frances Academy) returned to the court after missing last game due to an injury and poured in 18 points off the bench, including 11 in the second half. Saddler connected on 5-of-8 from the field and hit 8-of-10 from the free throw line. Junior forward Kyle Cain (Chicago, Ill./Arizona State) added 11 points and eight rebounds. 

The Spartans connected on 37.9 percent (22-of-58) from the field and just 20 percent (3-of-15) from three-point land. UNCG out-rebounded the taller Wolfpack by a 43-35 margin, including 15 offensive rebounds which helped the Spartans scored 17 second chance points. NC State finished the night shooting 40.7 percent (24-of-59) from the field but just 57.6 percent (19-of-33) from the charity stripe. T.J. Warren, who entered the game sixth in the nation in scoring, tallied a game-high 24 points and nine rebounds while Anthony Barber chipped in 17 points.

“Our team is at a point now where we are confident we can play with anyone when we play the right way,” Miller said. “That is something we can build on moving forward and take from this tough non-conference stretch heading into SoCon play. I thought we got better during this three game stretch against ACC teams. I am pleased with the way we are playing now, I just wish we had a different result tonight.”

The Spartans came out of the gate playing with a passion as they battled the Wolfpack point-of-point in the early going with the game tied at 11-11. The Spartans used that early energy to post a 9-2 run to take a 20-13 lead just under nine minutes in the game. Saddler scored four straight points, including a dunk off a steal under the NC State basket.

The Spartans also hit the offensive glass as Cain converted an offensive rebound for a basket while redshirt freshman center R.J. White (Frisco, Texas/Frisco) grabbed an offensive board and converted an old-fashioned three-point play to cap the run.

UNCG maintained the seven-point advantage at 28-21 until NC State scored seven straight points on its way to a 17-7 close of the half to take a 38-35 lead into the locker room. The Wolfpack were able to get out on the fast break during the stretch while UNCG misfired with some jump shots down the stretch.

The Spartans connected on 35.3 percent (12-of-34) from the field and 3-of-10 (30%) from three-point land. Locke led the Spartans with 11 points in the first half as he was 4-of-9 from the field and 3-of-4 from the charity strip. Cain and Saddler each added seven points in the opening stanza. NC State connected on 43.8 percent (14-of-32) from the field and hit just 1-of-5 (20%) from long range. T.J. Warren scored 16 points in the first half as he was 7-of-12 from the field.

NC State came out of the locker room at halftime and opened on a 16-2 run to take a 54-37 lead just under four minutes into the second half. The Wolfpack were able to get out in transition during that stretch as Barber and Desmond Lee each tallied five points in the run to balloon the lead to the largest of the game.

The Spartans showed their mettle though as they posted a 9-2 run on their way to a 24-9 stretch over the next 11:44 of the game to pull within at 63-61. Locke started the comeback converting an old-fashioned three-point play to ignite the Spartans and breathe life back into the Coliseum. From that point on, Saddler took over scoring 11 of his 18 points in the 10-minute stretch, including the basket at the 4:19 mark to force NC State into a timeout.

Both teams buckled in over the next three minutes as only one field goal was scored until UNCG made it a 66-64 game with 52 seconds remaining. Saddler came up with a steal on the defensive end, stripping Warren of the ball and sending the Spartans on the break. Freshman Diante Baldwin (Greensboro, N.C./High Point Christian) narrowed the gap back to two points as he muscled his way for an offensive rebound and a put-back.

After Warren gave NC State a 67-64 lead, the Spartans had possession with 21 seconds remaining. They went inside to Cain who got a good look at the basket but his shot was off the rim. Locke grabbed the offensive rebound and put up a shot through contact in traffic but it rolled off the rim and the Wolfpack was able to grab the rebound. Barber hit one of two free throws with eight seconds remaining to seal the victory, making it a two-possession game.

The Spartans end non-conference play with a 7-8 overall record, their best non-conference record since posting a 7-4 record in 2007-08. UNCG enters Southern Conference play Thursday night as it travels to Western Carolina. Game time is set for 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on 1320 WCOG AM.

- UNCG -

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