ASHEVILLE, N.C. – The sixth-seeded UNCG women’s basketball team saw its Southern Conference Tournament run come to an end Friday afternoon as the Spartans dropped a heartbreaking 54-52 battle to second-seeded ETSU at the U.S. Cellular Center in downtown Asheville. The loss ends the Spartans’ season at 13-18 while ETSU improves to 20-11 and advances to the SoCon Tournament championship game Sunday against top-seeded and No. 25 Mercer.
“I am really proud of our team,” head coach Trina Patterson said. “We played with of lot of passion and desire today. I thought we played an outstanding game. ETSU led for 19 minutes and we led for 15 minutes. There were 5:39 seconds where we were tied and it was during that time they just made one more play than we did. One more offensive rebound was the difference down the stretch, it was that close of a game.”
The physical battle between the two teams that split the regular season series saw the Spartans connect on 34.6 percent (18-of-52) from the field and just 2-of-9 (2.22%) from 3-point land. UNCG won the rebounding battle against the Bucs by a 40-35 margin and out-scored ETSU by a 26-18 margin in the paint.
Senior forward Ije Ajemba (Lanham, Mass./Old Dominion) led the way with her program-record 17th double-double of the season. Ajemba scored a team-high 14 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, despite playing through foul trouble for all of the second half. She connected on 6-of-10 from the field, including her first career 3-pointer. Sophomore Nadine Soliman (Cairo, Egypt) added 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting while Te’ja Twitty (Rutherfordton, N.C./Rutherfordton-Spindale Central) also had 11 points.
Ajemba, who already owned the UNCG single-season records in the NCAA Division I era, claimed the all-time single-season record, regardless of division Friday. She finished her one season with UNCG with 386 rebounds, surpassing Renee Coltrane’s top two seasons of 379 (1983-84) and 367 (1982-83) at the SoCon Tournament.
“It was an incredible year for Ije,” Patterson said. “To come in and break rebounding records and do that after not playing for a year, is impressive. We look forward to what she has implanted into our younger players and are excited for her lessons to grow in our team.”
ETSU connected on 38.0 percent (19-of-50) from the field and just 21.7 percent (5-of-23) from distance. The Bucs were able to overcome an 11-of-22 (50%) performance at the free throw line in the win. Tianna Tarter scored a game-high 17 points, including the go-ahead basket with 21.4 seconds remaining in the game. Erica Haynes-Overton added 16 points as she was 6-of-11 from the field, including three 3-pointers.
The Spartans found themselves in an ominous position, trailing 47-37 with 7:48 left in the fourth quarter after a Tarter basket. UNCG showed it mettle, battling back with a 15-4 run to take a 52-51 lead with 1:19 remaining in the game. Twitty started the run with a basketball before Ajemba scored in the post. Soliman added four-straight off drives before Twitty went 4-of-4 from the free throw line to give the Spartans the late lead.
The Spartans got the stop they needed on the defensive end but Twitty was whistled for an offensive foul giving the Bucs another chance. Tarter hit a baseline jumper with 21.4 seconds remaining to put the Bucs up 53-52. The Spartans went to Twitty off a drive but her shot was off the mark in traffic. ETSU only hit one out of its final four free throws though, giving the Spartans a chance trailing 54-52 with 5.6 seconds left. Twitty again had her numbered called and her drive was off the mark in the final seconds as ETSU escaped with the win.
-- UNCG --