GREENSBORO, N.C. – The UNCG men’s basketball team picked up its first Southern Conference win of the season Monday night as the Spartans downed visiting Furman 90-82 at the Greensboro Coliseum. The Spartans held the lead against the Paladins for all but 2:46 of the game and made plays down the stretch to preserve the eight-point victory.
“I thought we made plays as a group tonight,” head coach Wes Miller said. “Everything didn’t go our way tonight, but we found a way to push through the adversity. We didn’t let one mistake or adversity on one possession affect our play moving forward and that is something we have talked about all year. We have to be mature enough as a group to stay together and win the next possession. We did as good of a job of that tonight, as we have all season.”
The Spartans connected on 57.6 percent (34-of-59) from the field, their highest percentage against an NCAA Division I opponent this season and the second highest shooting performance of the season overall. UNCG also was strong from the free throw line hitting 83.3 percent (15-of-18), including six of its last seven in the final minute of play.
The Spartans (8-9, 1-1 SoCon) had four different players scored in double figures and eight players score at least five points in their third-largest scoring output of the season. Sophomore forward Kayel Locke (Baltimore, Md./McDonogh) continued his strong play of late, scoring a team-high 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field and 2-of-3 from the free throw line.
Freshman guard Tevon Saddler (Aberdeen, Md./St. Frances Academy) returned to the starting lineup and scored 17 points and dished out three assists. Saddler was 7-of-11 from the field and hit all three free throws. Junior Nicholas Paulos (Salt Lake City, Utah/New Hampton School) added 14 points, including four three-pointers, while classmate Kyle Cain (Chicago, Ill./Arizona State) chipped in 12 points and six rebounds while battling foul trouble all game long.
The Spartans dished out 18 assists in the victory with sophomore Jordan Potts (Columbus, Ohio/Northland) notching a game-high six helpers to go along with nine points. Senior Drew Parker (Houston, Texas/La Porte) added five assists and six points in the all-around team effort.
“I thought the offensive side was as good a performance we have had all year,” Miller said. “It was nice to see some guys make some shots. Jordan Potts made a couple of threes, Nicholas hit from the outside and Tevon made some plays and jump shots off the bounce. We need different guys to step up each night as Kyle and Kayel have been so consistent offensively for our team. When we have all our options hitting, we can be a dangerous team.”
Furman (6-9, 0-2 SoCon) was also strong offensively hitting 50 percent (25-of-50) from the field. The Paladins took advantage of 24 UNCG fouls as they went to the free throw line 33 times, hitting 78.8 percent from the stripe. Stephen Croone and Kendrec Ferrara added 21 points apiece for the Paladins who lost their second straight games in the series to UNCG, which is now tied at 12-12 all-time.
The two teams came out of the gate slowly, trading baskets back and forth with UNCG holding a 22-18 lead with 7:32 remaining. The Spartans put some distance between them and the Paladins with a 9-2 run, forcing a Furman timeout. Locke scored four points in the run while Pottshit one of the Spartans’ two three-pointers in the first half.
Furman responded with an 11-3 run to narrow the UNCG lead to two at 36-34. Williams Gates hit a three-pointer in the run while the Paladins took advantage of UNCG foul trouble, getting to the free throw line 19 times in the first 20 minutes of play. Saddler scored on the final possession of the half, tipping in his miss with a second half.
The Spartans connected on 48.4 percent (15-of-31) from the field and hit 6-of-7 (85.7 percent) from the free throw line. Locke led all scorers with 12 points while Saddler added seven for UNCG, which saw four different players have at least two first half fouls. Furman connected on 47.4 percent (9-of-19) from the field but hit 13-of-19 (68.4 percent) from the free throw line. Gates led the way with eight points while Croone added six points, getting to the free throw line seven times.
Furman came out of the halftime break and scored the first eight points to take a 42-38 lead as Larry Wideman and Ferrara hit three-pointers. The Spartans did not back down though, as Paulos hit a three-pointer to pull within one and Saddler scored off the bounce to regain the lead. After Furman tied the game, Paulos nailed another long range shot to give UNCG the lead back for good at 48-45.
The Spartans maintained the lead throughout the remainder of the second half, keeping a two-possession cushion for most of the final 20 minutes. Furman narrowed the gap to 78-76 with 3:14 left, but Saddler scored on the ensuing possession to bring it back to a four-point lead.
Once again, Ferrara hit a pair of free throws to trim the lead to two points, but this time redshirt freshman R.J. White (Frisco, Texas/Frisco) and Cain scored on consecutive possession to run the lead to six at 84-78. UNCG was able to seal the win at the free throw line, hitting six of its last seven from the stripe with two from Saddler, Paulos and Cain.
“Every conference game is going to be a battle and you can't let whatever happens on the last possession affect what happens on the next one,” Miller said. “We have to want to win the next possession ahead of us as a group and I thought we did that tonight. That is something we have to do for the next 14 conference games.”
The Spartans hit the road Thursday evening as they travel to Boone for a meeting with Appalachian State at 7 p.m.
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