ASHEVILLE, N.C. – For the first time since 2001 and the third time in program history, the UNCG men’s basketball team can call itself Southern Conference Tournament Champions and has earned the league’s automatic bid into the 2018 NCAA Tournament as the top-seeded Spartans defeated second-seeded ETSU 62-47 Monday night at the U.S. Cellular Center in downtown Asheville. UNCG will now await the NCAA Selection Show Sunday, March 11 at 6 p.m. on TBS.
“I am overwhelmed with emotion right now,” head coach Wes Miller said. “It’s been really hard getting here. I always believed we could cut down the nets and get to the NCAA Tournament here at UNCG, but it’s taken a bunch of great players to believe in our vision. I feel really grateful that I get the chance to coach these kids and this team. They are a really special group.”
The victory marks the sixth-straight win and the 11th win in the last 12 games as the Spartans will enter the NCAA Tournament with a 27-7 overall record. The win marked a little revenge for the Spartans who fell in a hotly contested SoCon Tournament championship last season to ETSU. The victory is the second SoCon Tournament title in program history (2001) and the third berth all together as UNCG won the Big South Tournament title in 1996.
“We’ve held that feeling of losing last year in the championship game with us all year,” Miller said. “In my office, there’s the runner-up trophy so we can remind ourselves that we came up short. I did see things a little different this year and our team was more focused and prepared. This group really allowed me to coach them this year and we were able to do some special things.”
Junior guard Francis Alonso (Malaga, Spain/Cushing Academy) was name the SoCon Tournament Most Valuable Player in the victory, while earning First Team All-SoCon Tournament. Junior guard Demetrius Troy (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God) also earned First Team All-SoCon Tournament accolades while sophomore forward James Dickey (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God) was named Second Team All-SoCon Tournament.
The Spartans entered the game with the SoCon’s top ranked scoring defense and the sixth-ranked scoring defense in the entire nation. UNCG lived up to that billing by holding the Buccaneers to a season-low 47 points, 33 points below their season average (76.0). The Spartans’ defense has been a stalwart for them all SoCon Tournament as UNCG only allowed 160 points in three games, a 53.3 scoring defense average. In fact, UNCG limited The Citadel to a season-low 58 points, Wofford to its second-lowest output at 55 points and ETSU to its season-low.
The Spartans’ defense limited ETSU to just 30.6 percent (15-of-49) shooting from the field and only 3-of-16 (18.8%) from 3-point land. In fact, the Bucs only connected on six field goals in the entire second half and did not hit a 3-pointer. Sophomore forward James Dickey (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God) led the way with a game-high five blocked shots and has blocked 13 shots in the last two games against ETSU.
Senior forward Jordy Kuiper (Groningen, Netherlands/Canaries Basketball Academy) and junior guard Demetrius Troy (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God) led the way with 13 points each as seven different Spartans scored at least six points. Kuiper connected on 4-of-9 from the field and hit two big 3-pointers in the second half as UNCG out-scored ETSU 37-22 in the second half.
Troy finished 5-of-9 from the field and hit three 3-pointers, with his final 3-pointer coming as the dagger in the final minutes ending any doubt. Dickey finished the game with nine points and eight rebounds as the Spartans out-rebounded the Bucs by a 39-31 margin, including 21-12 in the second half. Senior forward Marvin Smith (Richmond, Va./Fork Union Military Academy) added seven points and six rebounds as he helped the Spartans gut out the win.
“We came into the year really committed to one another,” Smith said. “The seniors shifted and changed the culture of the program during our time at UNCG and that is going to continue to stay that way. This is a testament to our hard work and ability to buy in as a team.”
The game was a defensive battle in the first half with both teams trading blows throughout. The teams went back-and-forth with the game heading into the locker room tied at 25-25. ETSU held a slim 28-27 advantage with 18:16 to go on a Mladen Armus free throw. UNCG scored 10-straight before Jalan McCloud made the Bucs first basket after intermission at the 12:04 mark.
The 10-0 run by the Spartans put UNCG in front 37-28 and the Spartans were catapulted into the lead by back-to-back 3-pointers from Kuiper. Dickey and freshman Isaiah Miller (Covington, Ga./Newton) each scored a pair from the free throw line during the run while the Spartans forced ETSU into three turnovers in the stretch.
The Spartans methodically put it away from there. The lead stayed in the six-to-nine-point range over the next five minutes. McCloud’s layup with 6:16 left cut it to six once again, 45-39. UNCG clamped down on the defensive end allowing just two field goals the rest of the way. Dickey scored in the post and Kuiper gave the Spartans a 51-40 lead as he scored on an offensive rebound and put back with 4:40 remaining.
It got no closer from there as Troy hit the exclamation point with a 3-pointers at the 1:37 mark putting the Spartans in front 61-47 and sending the crowd into celebration. Miller finished the game with eight points and five rebounds off the bench in 15 minutes of play while sophomore guard Malik Massey (Charlotte, N.C./New Hampton) scored six points off the bench to spark the Spartans in the first half.
UNCG Men's Basketball is heading to the NCAA Tournament! Tickets are $100 per session and UNCG Athletics will receive a limited allotment for sale. Stay tuned to uncgspartans.com for additional information regarding how to submit your request to purchase tickets, selection show watch party details and more.
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SoCon All-Tournament Team
Francis Alonso, UNCG
Demetrius Troy, UNCG
Makinde London, Chattanooga
Desonta Bradford, ETSU
Jalan McCloud, ETSU
James Dickey, UNCG
Zane Najdawi, The Citadel
Jordan Lyons, Furman
Nathan Hoover, Wofford
Cameron Jackson, Wofford
Most Outstanding Player
Francis Alonso, UNCG
Pincale Award (Highest GPA On Winning Team)
Justin Jordan, UNCG
-- UNCG --