GREENSBORO, N.C. – UNCG women’s basketball had four players score in double figures as the Spartans defeated the Furman Paladins, 76-74 in two overtimes Saturday evening. Ije Ajemba (Lanham, Md./Old Dominion) led the Spartans with 15 points as she set a new school record with her 10th double-double. Ajemba led the Spartans with eight of UNCG’s 12 overtime points. The Spartans improve to 8-11 on the season and even their Southern Conference record to 2-2. Furman falls to 11-7 on the season and 2-2 in the SoCon.
“Tonight was a really physical matchup.” Head coach Trina Patterson said, “That was like tough boxing match, going round after round and seeing who was going to be able to land the last punch. I was really pleased with how resilient we were. The physicality of tonight’s game is what made this one a little different, but we knew it would be that way going into it. Furman have some good size in the frontcourt, so we knew there would be some mismatches for them. There was some different pieces to the puzzle that had to be manipulated with the foul trouble we got in, but I thought our team bounced back really well.”
“Our team showed some real growth tonight.” Patterson continued, “We didn’t stop fighting. Earlier in the season, we didn’t play with as much fight and tonight’s game could have gone a different way. Furman kept going inside when we had some foul trouble but our bench came on strong in that time. Our press helped us get back into the game and our bench really played well. Defensively we were good, but we need to be more efficient on the offensive end. (Alexus) Willey had the defensive play of the night towards the end of regulation. She was able to rotate over and block the layup attempt and gave us a chance in the final minute. Without that, Furman would have been up with 20 seconds on the clock. There were some huge plays and we were able to make just a few more than they were. I’m proud of the way our team played tonight.”
Ajemba led UNCG with 15 points and grabbed 12 rebounds on her way to her 10th double-double of the season. Nadine Soliman (Cairo, Egypt/Mokattam Language School) added 12 points, hit four free throws and a pair of 3-pointers.
Off the bench, Mangela Ngandjui (Upper Marlboro, Md./Riverdale Baptist) scored a season-high 14 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Brandi Fier (South Beloit, Ill./Illinois Central) scored 12 points and dished out six assists. Cece Crudup (Richmond, Va./Highland Springs) hit a season-high two 3-pointers en route to scoring eight points in the victory. Te’ja Twitty (Rutherfordton, N.C./Rutherfordton-Spindale Central) hauled down 10 rebounds and six offensive rebounds.
Points off turnovers played a big role in the contest as the Spartans outscored Furman 28-16 off of turnovers to help earn the win, with the final point being scored after a Furman turnover.
Both teams struggled out of the gate as five minutes into the game it was tied at 4-4. The Paladins went on an 8-0 run with Le’Jzae Davidson hitting a fast break layup to go up 12-4 with 3:33 left in the quarter. UNCG was able to counter the Paladins and went on a 9-0 run of its own with Alexus Willey (Waldorf, Md./Riverdale Baptist), Crudup and Fier hitting 3-pointers in the run. Fier gave UNCG the 17-16 lead by driving through the Paladin defense and hitting a layup with 0:22 left in the quarter.
UNCG got its largest lead of the game in the second quarter when Ngandjui hit a jumper and Soliman drew a foul and hit both free throws to give UNCG the 34-26 lead. Furman was able to cut the Spartan lead in half after Jarya Outten hit one-of-two free throws with 0:28 remaining.
The third quarter saw the Paladins take their first lead since first quarter after going on a 10-0 run, capped by a Stephinia Oramas 3-pointer off of a Davidson pass. Twitty tied it back up after hitting a pair of free throws, but Furman countered by taking advantage of a pair of Spartan fouls and hit three-of-four free throws to go up. After Duncan hit both of her free throws to take a 49-45 lead with 0:08 on the clock, Fier took the ball coast-to-coast and hit a layup with 0:04 on the clock to cut the Paladin lead to 49-47 after the third quarter.
Cierra Carter gave Furman its largest lead of the final quarter at 56-51 after hitting a 3-pointer with 7:10 remaining. Fier countered with a 3-pointer of her own before a fast break bucket from Soliman tied it up at 56. Ajemba went to work in the pain, taking a 58-56 lead at 4:34 left in regulation before Furman countered by hitting three free throws to take a 59-58 lead. Soliman hit another 3-pointer but a Celena Taborn layup again knotted the contest at 61. Ajemba gave UNCG a three-point lead after finishing an old-fashioned 3-point play, but Furman took advantage of a pair of UNCG fouls and Kaitlyn Duncan hit two free throws with 0:56 on the clock for the ninth tie of the game at 64 all. Furman had an opportunity to take the lead with 0:22 remaining as Jackson had a look under the rim before Willey stuffed the shot and got the ball back for UNCG. The Spartans had a chance in regulation, with Soliman getting a contested chance, but was unable to finish.
Ajemba went to work in the first overtime. After winning the tip, she was fouled on the first possession and hit both free throws. Carter put Furman back in front with a shot from behind the arc before Ajemba scored on back-to-back possessions to give UNCG a three-point lead. Fier hit a free throw to go up 71-67 with 0:23 remaining before Davidson connected from distance to cut the lead down to one. With 0:14 on the clock, Fier hit one of two free throws to take a 72-70 lead but DeAnneisha Jackson hit a jumper from the free throw line with 0:05 left to tie it back up at 72 and force a second overtime.
The second overtime, the Spartans limited Furman to just one basket from the floor and took advantage of four Furman fouls over the final five minutes. Ajemba hit a pair of free throws with 2:09 remaining to go up 75-72, but a Davidson jumper cut the lead back to one. Soliman hit one-of-two free throws with 0:27 left to go up two. Stephania Oramas took the final shot for the Paladins, but came up short as the Spartans earned the victory.
UNCG returns to the court next Thursday as it takes on the league-leading Mercer Bears in Macon, Georgia at Hawkins Arena.