GREENSBORO, N.C. – Despite a career-high 34 points from freshman guard Tevon Saddler (Aberdeen, Md./St. Frances Academy), the UNCG men’s basketball team suffered a heart-breaking 85-84 loss to visiting in-state foe East Carolina Tuesday night at the Greensboro Coliseum. East Carolina scored five points in the final 12 seconds to stun UNCG, including three free throws by Akeem Richardson with 1.2 seconds left to give the Pirates the victory.
“I am really proud of my group tonight – can’t be prouder to be honest,” head coach Wes Miller said. “I thought they made game-winning plays and did enough to win the game. It is unfortunate it didn’t shake out that way. You have to give Jeff a lot a credit as he has done a lot with this team and they showed a lot of resiliency down two possessions late in the game. I thought my team played tough, played together and made the plays needed to win the game. It is just unfortunate that it didn’t turn out that way. We need to respond correctly and come back to practice looking to get better every day.”
Saddler’s 34 points are a UNCG freshman record in the NCAA Division I era, surpassing Trevis Simpson’s 33-point effort against Davidson. He connected on 10-of-15 from the field and was 14-of-19 from the free throw line in his coming out party. He also grabbed a career-high eight rebounds, dished out five assists, blocked one shot and notched a steal in 33 minutes of action. Bruce Shaw scored 41 points for the Spartans against the College of Charleston Jan. 13, 1969 for the school record by a freshman.
Junior forward Kyle Cain (Chicago, Ill./Arizona State) fell just shy of a double-double as he scored 16 points and grabbed a game-high nine rebounds. Cain was 6-of-10 from the field and 4-of-6 from the free throw line in 36 minutes of play. Junior Nicholas Paulos (Salt Lake City, Utah/New Hampton School) added 16 points in 37 minutes as he was 5-of-10 from the field, including four three-pointers.
UNCG finished the night shooting 50 percent (26-of-52) from the field and 50 percent (6-of-12) from long range. The Spartans also improved at the free throw line hitting 74.3 percent (26-of-35), led by Saddler’s 19 attempts. UNCG also held a 43-31 edge on the glass, marking the second straight game the Spartans have led in that category.
Richmond led five Pirates in double figures scoring in the victory as he finished with 16 points, despite hitting just 5-of-13 from the field as he was a perfect 5-of-5 from the free throw line. East Carolina finished the night shooting 89.3 percent (25-of-28) from the charity stripe just one game after only shooting 50 percent (11-of-22) against North Carolina Wesleyan.
The Spartans held a six-point lead at 79-73 with 1:05 left after Saddler hit a pair of free throws. Brandan Stith scored on the ensuing possession on an offensive rebound before Cain and Prince Williams exchanged free throw makes.
The Pirates trimmed the deficit to 80-78 with 40 seconds remaining after Michael Zangari scored in the paint. Saddler responded with two more free throw makes before Williams added a pair from the charity stripe. The Spartans broke the ECU press and Cain scored in the paint to make it an 84-80 game with 20 seconds remaining, setting the stage for the final 20 improbable seconds.
East Carolina missed a three-pointer on the ensuing possession but Caleb White was fouled on the rebound and hit both to make it an 84-82 game. The Spartans inbounded the ball against pressure, but ECU forced a steal and Richmond attempted a deep three-pointer. The referees called a foul on the Spartans sending Richmond to the line with 1.2 seconds remaining and he buried all three to give the Pirates the victory. Senior Drew Parker (Houston, Texas/La Porte) saw his half court heave hit off the back iron and out as time expired with the chaotic ending.
UNCG opened the game quickly as the Spartans scored the first 10 points of the game on their way to a 17-4 start. Saddler got the Spartans rolling early with six points in the first six-plus minutes as he drove to the basket with ease against the Pirates. Cain continued his strong start to his UNCG career, scoring six points in the opening stretch.
After the Spartans opened to a 31-16 lead on a layup by Cain, East Carolina started to chip away at the deficit scoring nine straight points to trim the UNCG lead to 31-25. The Pirates went to the free throw line four times in the stretch while Richmond hit a three-pointer off a scramble to make it a two-possession game.
UNCG regrouped and closed the half on a 7-2 run to go into the locker room with a 40-30 lead. Paulos started the closing run with a three-point while Cain and freshman Tyrone Outlaw (Roxboro, N.C./Person County) each added a pair of free throws to give the Spartans a double-digit lead at the break.
The Spartans connected on 48.0 percent (12-of-25) from the field in the first half and sit 13-of-16 (81.3%) from the free throw line. Saddler led all scorers in the first 20 minutes with 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the field and 6-of-8 from the charity stripe. Cain chipped in 10 points and five rebounds in the first half as UNCG out-rebounded the Pirates 22-15.
East Carolina connected on just 28.1 percent (9-of-32) from the field and hit 9-of-10 from the line. Caleb White led the Pirates with 11 points off the bench while no other ECU player had more than five points in the first half.
The Pirates started to chip away at the deficit early in the second half, posting a 15-4 run to take a 52-51 lead just under eight minutes into the second half. Richmond scored five points in the run while Campbell added back-to-back baskets.
The Spartans weathered the storm and re-took the lead with seven straight points as Outlaw and Saddler scored on back-to-back possession. Paulos put UNCG in front 61-55 with 7:35 left as he hit a three-pointer on the wing. UNCG maintained the lead down the stretch until the final seconds of the game before suffering the difficult loss.
The Spartans return to action Sunday afternoon as they continue their four-game home stretch hosting Chowan. Game time is set for 2 p.m. at the Greensboro Coliseum.
- UNCG -