GREENSBORO, N.C. – Te’ja Twitty (Rutherfordton, N.C./Rutherfordton-Spindale Central) and Ije Ajemba (Lanham, Md./Old Dominion) each recorded a double-double as UNCG came up just short against the Southern Conference’s top team Saturday evening. The Spartans fell to the Mercer Bears, 57-54. UNCG held the SoCon’s top offensive team to shooting 36-percent from the field and grabbed eight more rebounds, but could not pull off the upset.
With the loss, UNCG falls to 11-17 overall and 5-8 in SoCon play. Mercer improves to 25-2 and 12-0 in SoCon play and have now won 22-straight games, third-best winning streak in the nation. UNCG held Mercer to eight points in the opening quarter and 10-percent below its season field goal percentage in the contest.
“There was a big, big difference between that game and from the first time we played Mercer.” Head coach Trina Patterson said, “We were tied with them at halftime down at their place before they went on this big run and we ended up losing my more than 20. Tonight we stuck with them and played well but unfortunately we couldn’t make enough plays at the end to get the result. With Alexus (Willey) being out, we really had to tweak our starting lineup. Thursday we went with Aneka (Yelverton) and tonight Cece (Crudup) got the start. Our zone defense was pretty good. They shot 10-percent under their average so I’m proud of our defensive effort tonight.”
“Mercer is the number one team in the league in scoring offense, free throw percentage and scoring defense and we paid specific attention to certain elements where we thought we could be in a survivor mode.” Patterson continued, “Because it was our pink game, we knew we had a lot of survivors out and supporting us. We really tried to embrace that mentality, and do what survivors do. They fight and are positive and overcome the odds. I’m really proud of our growth from January to now.”
The Spartan offense shot 39 percent (22-of-57) from the floor and 20 percent (2-of-10) from 3-point range Saturday evening. Soliman paced the offense with a game-high 15 points on 7-of-15 shooting. Twitty and Ajemba went for 14 and 11 points, respectively. Twitty led all competitors with 12 rebounds to earn her third double-double of the season. Ajemba earned her 14 double-double, adding to her school record for single season double-doubles with 11 boards.
Mercer recovered after shooting just 18 percent (3-of-17) in the first quarter to finish shooting 36 percent (22-of-61) and 33 percent (5-of-15) from 3-point range. Kahlia Lawrence led the Bears with 15 points. KeKe Calloway added 12 points and Sydni Means went for 11 points and nine assists.
The Spartan defense made things tough for the Bears in the first quarter. Twitty and Ajemba hit from the paint before Mercer got is first points on a Lawrence jumper. Brandi Fier (South Beloit, Ill./Illinois Central CC) hit a 3-pointer and Soliman finished at the rim with a fast break layup to give UNCG its largest lead of the game at 9-2 with 4:27 remaining in the quarter. Means and Linnea Rosendal hit 3-pointers down the stretch, but Mangela Ngandjui (Upper Marlboro, Md./Riverdale Baptist) hit a jumper with 0:04 on the clock to extend UNCG’s lead to 13-8.
Mercer used a 6-0 run in the second quarter to cut the Spartan lead down to 15-14 with 6:12 remaining. Cece Crudup (Richmond, Va./Highland Springs) and Means traded buckets before Rachel Selph hit a jumper to give Mercer its first lead of the game at 17-16. Twitty scored on back-to-back possessions to give UNCG a 21-18 lead with 1:58 remaining before Lawrence dialed up a shot from 3-point range to tie it up. Over the final 0:26, Selph and Soliman traded layups to head to the half tied at 23.
UNCG started the second half with a 6-0 run, four coming from Ajemba to take a 29-23 lead just 2:31 into the third quarter. Mercer countered with a 10-0 run to grab a lead a 33-29 before Ngandjui cut the lead in half with a pair of free throws. Soliman completed the old-fashioned 3-point play to tie the game at 35 with 2:21 remaining and Ngandjui and Calloway exchanged points to head to the final quarter knotted at 37.
Mercer used a 7-0 run to take its largest lead of the night at 49-41 with 5:12 remaining in the fourth quarter behind a Calloway hit another 3-pointer, a Lawrence jumper and a transition layup from Calloway. UNCG attacked, but Mercer kept countering, not letting UNCG closer than four points over the final two minutes. Means hit four free throws down the stretch to extend the lead. As time expired, Fier sank a half-court heave to cut the lead back down to 57-54.
UNCG women’s basketball wraps up the 2017-18 regular season next Saturday as it hosts the Western Carolina Catamounts at 4 p.m. for senior night.