GREENSBORO, N.C. – The UNCG men’s basketball team rallied from a six-point halftime deficit with a dominating second half performance as the Spartans pulled away from James Madison 78-65 Wednesday night at the Greensboro Coliseum. The Spartans out-scored the Dukes 42-23 in the second half with four different players scoring in double figures in one of the best all-around performances of the season.
“We really challenged our guys at halftime to get down and guard,” head coach Wes Miller said. “We came out and were down in the stance, guys were playing together, doing their job and that really fueled us getting open opportunities in transition. We just need to keep coming to practice everyday with the right attitude and mindset. The last two days of practice were the best back-to-back practices we have had all year and that carried effort over into the game.”
The Spartans’ second half performance was on both ends of the floor. They shot 55.6 percent (15-of-27) from the field and hit 72.7 percent (8-of-11) from three-point land in the second 20 minutes as five different players fired from beyond the arc. Defensively, the Spartans turned in their top performance of the season, limiting James Madison to just 32 percent (8-of-25) shooting from the field and only 9.1 percent (1-of-11) from three-point land in the second half.
Junior Nicholas Paulos (Salt Lake City, Utah/New Hampton School) led the Spartans to victory with a team-high 21 points, despite fouling out after 31 minutes. Paulos did his damage against a variety of JMU zone defenses, hitting 7-of-11 from three-point land, while also grabbing five rebounds.
Junior forward Kyle Cain (Chicago, Ill./Arizona State) continued his dominant play finishing with 20 points, seven rebounds and three assists in 34 minutes of action. Cain connected on 7-of-11 from the field, including a three-pointer, while also hitting 5-of-6 from the free throw line.
Redshirt freshman center R.J. White (Frisco, Texas/Frisco) scored a career-high 12 points and grabbed six rebounds off the bench as he was 6-of-8 shooting form the field in just 14 minutes of action. Sophomore forward Kayel Locke (Baltimore, Md./McDonogh) rounded out the Spartans in double figures with 11 points, while freshman guard Tevon Saddler (Aberdeen, Md./St. Frances Academy) chipped in seven points, five assists and four rebounds.
Ron Curry, who scored a game-high 23 points on 6-of-9 from the field and 8-of-11 from the free throw line, led James Madison. The Dukes’ leading scorer, Charles Cooke, was held to just nine points on 2-of-7 shooting. The Spartans limited him to only two points in the second half as freshman guard Diante Baldwin (Greensboro, N.C./High Point Christian) came off the bench to perform a spectacular defensive effort on Cooke.
The Spartans got off to a quick start as Paulos opened the game with back-to-back three-pointers. Both teams started to settle in as James Madison used different zone looks to slow down the Spartans. The Dukes held a 30-26 lead after Ivan Lukic hit a three-pointer from the corner to give a two-possession advantage.
UNCG posted a quick 6-1 run to take the lead back at 32-31 as White scored on an offensive rebound put-back, while Locke scored four points in the run, including a baseline drive to put UNCG in front. James Madison answered with six straight points and closed the half on an 11-4 run to take a 42-36 lead into the locker room.
UNCG connected on 46.2 percent (12-of-26) from the field and just 3-of-8 (37.5 percent) from long range in the opening half. The Spartans also only committed two turnovers in the first 20 minutes of action, but were out-rebounded by a 14-11 margin. Cain led the Spartans with 12 points in the half while Paulos added nine points on 3-of-6 shooting from distance. James Madison was strong offensively in the first half hitting 56.5 percent (13-of-23) in the half and 44.4 percent (4-of-9) from long range. Curry led the Dukes with 12 points in the first half while Cooke chipped in seven points.
Taylor Kessick opened the second half with a jumper on the baseline to give James Madison its largest lead of the night at 44-36. The Spartans quickly responded though, posting a 16-4 run to take the lead back for good at 52-48. UNCG did most of its damage in the run from beyond the arc, hitting four three-pointers in the spurt including consecutive three-pointers by Locke, Cain and freshman Tyrone Outlaw (Roxboro, N.C./Person County).
James Madison hung around in the next five minutes as UNCG held a 62-59 lead with 9:01 remaining in the game. The Spartans were able to slam the door shut on the victory over the ensuing seven minutes, posting a 13-4 run to take a 75-63 lead that was never put into jeopardy in the final two minutes.
The Spartans got some breathing room as Locke scored in the paint before Baldwin came up with a big basket with a drive down the lane for a seven-point land. UNCG extended its lead to double figures as Paulos hit two more three-pointers before Saddler ended any doubt with 2:08 remaining. The Spartans were down to their final seconds of the shot clock before he launched a deep three-pointer at the top of the key that splashed down for his first career three-pointer and a 12-point lead.
The Spartans finished the game with a season-low seven turnovers in the victory while also dishing out 18 assists. UNCG also won the rebounding effort with a 30-28 edge, marking the ninth time in 12 games the Spartans have won or tied the battle of the boards.
UNCG returns to action Saturday night as it travels down the road to Winston-Salem to take on Atlantic Coast Conference foe Wake Forest. Game time is set for 2 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN3 and the Watch ESPN App.
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