ASHEVILLE, N.C. – The sixth-seeded UNCG women’s basketball team showed a persistent fight in the quarterfinals of the 2018 Southern Conference Tournament as the Spartans won a wild affair over third-seeded Chattanooga 70-66 in double overtime at the U.S. Cellular Center in downtown Asheville. With the win, UNCG advances to the SoCon Tournament semifinals for the second-straight season and will face off against second-seeded ETSU Friday at 1:15 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3 and the ESPN App.
“I am really proud of our team tonight,” head coach Trina Patterson said. “We have a team that never gives up and we have been in these situations all year, playing well in overtimes. We talked today about opportunities and taking each opportunity together as a team.”
The Spartans got contributions up and down the lineup as their bench sored 34 points in the victory. Sophomore forward Mangela Ngandjui (Upper Marlboro, Md./Riverdale Baptist) made herself at home in the SoCon Tournament once again, scoring a team-high 18 points off the bench, hitting 8-of-14 from the field, including two 3-pointers in the second overtime period. The 3-pointers were the first two made of her two-year career as she had only attempted one other long range shot as a Spartan. She scored 10 of the Spartans 18 points in the two overtime periods after earning All-SoCon Tournament honors last year as a freshman. She scored 19 points in the quarterfinal round last season and now has scored 37 points in two quarterfinal appearances in her career.
“I am really proud of the play of Mango (Mangela) tonight,” Patterson said. “She is used to these games as she did the same thing last year in the SoCon Tournament. These are the games she lives for the really intense, do or die games. She did exceptionally well tonight.”
Sophomore guard Alexus Willey (Waldorf, Md./Riverdale Baptist) gave the Spartans a spark off the bench as well, scoring 16 points all after halftime. Willey connected on 5-fo-6 from the field, 3-of-3 from 3-point land and 3-of-4 from the free throw line. Senior forward Ije Ajemba (Lanham, Mass./Old Dominion) posted her program-record 16th double-double in the win, scoring 13 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. Her play helped the Spartans out-rebound Chattanooga by a 45-38 margin, including 15 on the offensive glass.
UNCG (12-17), finished the game shooting 38.6 percent (27-of-70) from the field and 53.8 percent (7-of-13) from long range. The Spartans forced the Mocs into 19 turnovers on the night while also blocking eight shots. Chattanooga (17-11) finished the game shooting 37.5 percent (24-of-64) from the field and 35.7 percent (10-of-28) from distance. The Mocs were led by the play of Brooke Burns who scored 36 points as the only Moc in double figures. Burns connected on 13-of-23 from the field and 5-of-11 from 3-point land as she scored the last 17 points of the game for Chattanooga.
The back-and-forth game saw both teams make runs at each other and it seemed neither team wanted to go away quietly. The Spartans saw themselves take a 45-34 lead late in the third quarter thanks in part to a 19-8 run. Willey was the catalyst scoring eight points during the stretch while Ajemba added five points.
Chattanooga did not back down as it posted a 17-0 run, taking a 51-45 lead with 3:22 remaining in the fourth quarter. Burns scored seven points in the run while Shelbie Davenport and Molly Melton each hit 3-pointers to pace the Mocs. The Spartans had a steep hill to climb but they battled back, scoring seven-straight taking a 52-51 lead with 1:25 remaining. Willey scored five straight points to pull UNCG within one and sophomore Te’ja Twitty (Rutherfordton, N.C./Rutherfordton-Spindale Central) scored down low giving UNCG a 52-51 lead.
Twitty would give the Spartans a 53-51 lead with 7.5 seconds remaining in regulation, hitting one of two free throws. Chattanooga had some magic of its own as Burns hit a tough shot in the lane with 0.6 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime tied at 53-53.
The first overtime saw the Spartans scored the first five points as Ngandjui hit a jumper and Ajemba converted a 3-point play. The Mocs answered back with five of their own before Ngandjui gave UNCG a 60-58 lead with 53.3 seconds remaining in overtime. Chattanooga again got a big shot from Burns as she scored off a drive and was fouled with 4.3 seconds remaining. She missed the free throw though and the game went to a second overtime time at 60-60.
The second overtime became a 3-point battle between one unlikely 3-point shooter in Ngandjui and a likely one in Burns. Ngandjui hit her first career 3-pointer before Burns answered back with consecutive 3-pointres giving Chattanooga a 66-63 lead. Ngandjui answered right back with the hot hand, nailing a 3-pointer tying the game at 66-66 with 1:13 remaining.
The Spartans defense stepped up and forced a turnover before Brandi Fier (South Beloit, Ill./Illinois Central) hit a 15-foot jumper on the baseline for the 68-66 lead. The Spartans again came up on the defensive end, forcing the Mocs into a missed shot before sophomore Nadine Soliman (Cairo, Egypt) came down with the rebound. Soliman, the Spartans’ leading scorer, hit two free throws for her first points of the night sealing the victory at 70-66 with 2.9 seconds remaining.
-- UNCG --