ASHEVILLE, N.C. – The top-seeded UNCG men’s basketball team tied its program-record for wins in a season, notching its 25th win of the year as the Spartans posted a 72-58 victory over The Citadel to advance to the semifinals of the 2018 Southern Conference Tournament hosted at the U.S. Cellular Center. The Spartans will face the winner of No. 4 Mercer vs. No. 5 Wofford Sunday at 4 p.m.
“I’m just happy we’ll be able to stay in Asheville for another one tomorrow,” head coach Wes Miller said. “Our biggest concern all week was take it one day at a time. I thought we had some jitters in the first half...but I thought we settled down like the last 18 minutes and started doing some of things we’ve been doing most of the year defensively to help us win. When we did some things defensively, it settled us down on the other end of the floor as well.”
The victory improves the Spartans to 25-7 overall, matching their win total from last year (25-10). The SoCon semifinal appearance is the second-straight for the Spartans and the seventh in program-history.
The Spartans carried the nation’s seventh ranked scoring defense into the game and they lived up to the ranking, holding the nation’s 23rd-ranked scoring offense to 25 points under their season average. UNCG’s defense limited the Bulldogs to a season-low 58 points, matching the performance the Spartans accomplished against The Citadel in January. The Spartans have held the Bulldogs to three of their four lowest scoring outputs of the year while going 3-0 against them.
“It’s really challenging to prepare for any Duggar Baucom coached team,” Miller said. “It’s challenging to figure out what to do on both sides of the ball, then it’s challenging to get your kids to execute what to do. Defensively, it took us a minute to get adjusted but we finally covered down. I thought our zone really helped us cover the three-point line deep into the second half.”
The Spartans limited The Citadel to just 35.1 percent (20-of-57) from the field and only 28.2 percent (11-of-39) shooting from 3-point land. UNCG dominated play in the paint, out-scoring the Bulldogs 36-16 in the paint and winning the battle on the glass by a 41-33 margin.
UNCG finished the game shooting 45.8 percent (27-of-59) from the field and 34.8 percent (8-of-23) from distance. The Spartans also only committed 10 turnovers against the fast-paced Bulldogs. Five players scored in double figures in the win for UNCG. Junior guard Demetrius Troy (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God) led the way with 14 points and three assists as he hit 4-of-7 from 3-point land.
Sophomore forward James Dickey (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God) recorded his sixth double-double of the year with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Dickey also dished out four assists, blocked two shots and notched a pair of steals in the all-around effort as he was 5-of-7 from the field and 3-of-4 from the free throw line. Junior guard Francis Alonso (Malaga, Spain/Cushing Academy) added 12 points, five rebounds and three assists in the victory, hitting a pair of 3-pointers.
Freshman guard Isaiah Miller (Covington, Ga./Newton) added 10 points and five rebounds off the bench, finishing 5-of-10 from the field. Senior forward Marvin Smith (Richmond, Va./Fork Union Military Academy) added 10 points and six rebounds while battling through foul trouble.
The Spartans came out of the gate and opened to an early 11-6 lead, as Dickey was hot from the start, scoring six-straight points. The Citadel was able to tie the game at 16-16 as UNCG started to miss from the field, going over three minutes of scoreless basketball. The teams went back-and-forth until freshman Kylia Sykes (Washington, D.C./St. John’s College) hit a jumper with 39 seconds left in the half to send the Spartans to the locker room with a 29-28 lead.
The Citadel scored the first four points of the second half and held a 36-32 lead after a Frankie Johnson 3-pointer. The Spartans bounced back and scored the next 12 points to take a 44-36 lead, a lead they would never relinquish. All 12 of the Spartans’ points came in the paint as Dickey started it with a basket down low while Alonso converted back-to-back drives to ignite the team. Sykes capped the run as he caught an alley-oop against The Citadel zone for the eight-point lead.
The Spartans would never allow The Citadel closer than seven points the rest of the way, hitting six-straight free throws in the final minute to ice the game with a 72-58 margin. Zane Najdawi led the Bulldogs in the loss with 17 points, including 4-of-8 shooting from distance but was limited on the inside by the Spartans’ defense. Matt Frierson added 10 points but hit just 3-of-12 from long range in the loss.
-- UNCG --