CULLOWHEE, N.C. – The UNCG men’s basketball team opened Southern Conference play Thursday night with a 72-51 loss to Western Carolina at the Ramsey Center. The Spartans committed a season-high 23 turnovers in the loss, which WCU was able to turn into 35 points off those miscues.
“They completely out-toughed us in every single way tonight,” head coach Wes Miller said. “It was a really disappointing effort for us as we were not very good and they were very good tonight. We were careless with the ball and when we put it in jeopardy, we were not very strong battling for the loose balls. We have to regroup here and use this loss to fuel us going forward.”
The Spartans (7-9, 0-1 SoCon) connected on just 39.5 percent (17-of-43) from the field and hit 2-of-7 (28.6%) from three-point land in the loss. Junior forward Kyle Cain (Chicago, Ill./Arizona State) led UNCG with 17 points, 15 of which came in the first half, as he was 6-of-10 from the field and 4-of-5 from the free throw line. Sophomore forward Kayel Locke (Baltimore, Md./McDonogh) added 14 points on 4-of-9 shooting from the field and 6-of-6 from the free throw line, but they were the only Spartans to reach double figures scoring.
Western Carolina conversely connected on 45 percent (27-of-60) from the field and 40.9 percent (9-of-22) from long range. The Catamounts took advantage of every UNCG miscue, scoring 35 points off of turnovers and tallying 10 fast break baskets. Trey Sumler led the way with 16 points while Mike Brown added 13 points as nine different Catamounts found their way on to the box score.
Both teams came out slowly until Western Carolina took a 21-11 lead as Brown and Sumler hit three-pointers to extend the Catamount lead to double figures. The Spartans settled in as Locke scored in the paint to start the swing of the momentum. Cain took over from there, scoring eight straight points to pull UNCG within two at 23-21.
The Spartans continued to claw their way back and took a lead off a scramble of consecutive turnovers. Cain was the recipient of the last miscue, converting an old-fashioned three-point play on the fast break to put UNCG in front 29-28. Western Carolina did not back down though as it scored the final eight points of the half as it took advantage of three straight UNCG turnovers which directly led to fast break baskets giving the Catamounts a 36-29 lead at the break.
The Spartans connected on 39.1 percent (9-of-23) in the first half and hit 2-of-3 from three-point land. Cain led all scorers with 15 points in the first half as he was 5-of-7 from the field and 4-of-4 from long range. Western Carolina connected on 48.4 percent (15-of-31) in the first half and hit four three-pointers. Sumler scored 10 points in the first half while Tawaski King added six.
The Catamounts came out of the break and quickly ran the lead back to 10 points at 43-33. The Spartans answered with four straight points to force a WCU timeout as Locke and freshman Tevon Saddler (Aberdeen, Md./St. Frances Academy) both scored in the paint.
Western Carolina responded from that point forward, scoring 12 unanswered points on its way to a game-changing 26-8 run, which ended any chance for UNCG. The Catamounts took advantage of 10 Spartan turnovers in the run while converting those miscues into baskets, including four three-pointers in the stretch.
The Spartans return to action Monday night as they host Furman in their SoCon home opener. Game time is set for 7 p.m. at the Greensboro Coliseum.
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