BOONE, N.C. – The UNCG men’s basketball team turned in a strong second half effort to lead the Spartans to a 66-60 victory over Southern Conference and in-state rival Appalachian State Thursday night at the Holmes Center. The victory improves the Spartans to 2-1 in SoCon action and drops the Mountaineers to 0-2 in league play.
“Anytime you can go on the road in conference play and come home with a victory, it is a good night,” head coach Wes Miller said. “This was not a perfect game for us by any means but we found a way to win. We were able to get multiple stops in a row on the defensive end, which allowed us to build out a lead. We have things we still need to work on but we will enjoy this win for a couple of hours, at least.”
The Spartans finished the game shooting 46.9 percent (23-of-49) from the field holding Appalachian State to just 34.5 percent (20-of-58) and just 5-for-17 from the three-point line in the victory. UNCG has already matched its win total from a season ago with nine wins in 18 games.
“I thought we had one of our best defensive games of the year,” Miller said. “Our guys did a great job taking what was on the scouting report and bringing it to the floor tonight. We played defense as a team and anytime Appalachian State came into the paint, we had five guys there to build a wall against them.”
The Spartans (9-9, 2-1 SoCon) had three different players scored in double figures and six players score at least five points in a balanced effort against the Mountaineers. Freshman Tevon Saddler (Aberdeen, Md./St. Frances Academy) and junior Nicholas Paulos (Salt Lake City, Utah/New Hampton Prep) led the Spartans in scoring with 13 points apiece, respectively. Paulos was 3-for-6 from the three-point line and Saddler was 7-for-11 from the free throw line.
Junior forward Kyle Cain (Chicago, Ill./Arizona State) earned his SoCon-leading sixth double-double of the season after scoring 12 points (6-for-11) and pulling down 14 rebounds.
The Spartans opened to an early lead with a 10-3 run to take an 18-9 advantage just under 10 minutes into the game. Cain scored six points in the run while sophomore guard Jordan Potts (Columbus, Ohio/Northland) hit a runner in the lane to give UNCG a nine-point lead.
After Appalachian State posted eight straight points to pull within one, UNCG answered back with a 7-0 spurt to take a 25-17 lead. Paulos started it with a three-pointer in transition while Saddler drove baseline for the open basket.
The Mountaineers closed the half on a 13-4 run to take a 30-29 lead into the locker room. Chris Burgess hit a three-pointer to start the run while Tevin Baskin nailed a long distance shot to give ASU the late lead with under 10 seconds remaining in the half.
The Spartans connected on 46.2 percent (12-of-26) from the field in the first half but hit just 2-of-8 (25%) from long range. UNCG also committed 11 turnovers in the first half, which led to 10 points for the Mountaineers. Paulos led the Spartans with eight points in the half while Cain and redshirt freshman center R.J. White (Frisco, Texas/Frisco) each added six points. Appalachian State connected on 30 percent (9-of-30) from the field but hit 4-7 (57.1%) from distance and 8-o-9 (88.9%) from the free throw line. Jay Canty led all scorers with 11 points while Baskin added seven points.
The Spartans came out of the halftime break and opened on a 9-4 run to take a 38-34 lead. Saddler scored the first four points of the second half before senior guard Drew Parker (Houston, Texas/La Porte) hit a three-pointer after being left wide open on the wing. The run was capped by some hard work on the inside as White battled for an offensive rebound and put back.
The Blue and Gold put the pressure on defensively in the second half holding the Mountaineers to just 30 points. At the 12:00 minute mark, Appalachian State cut the lead to 42-41 before sophomore Jordan Potts (Columbus, Ohio/Northland) scored four-straight points to give the Spartans a five-point advantage. The run was sparked by a key steal by Potts leading to a fast break layup to push the lead to 46-41
UNCG took the lead for good with a key 12-5 run to take a 61-50 lead. Paulos started the run with a three-pointer and sophomore Kayel Locke (Baltimore, Md./McDonogh) converted a conventional three-point play to push the lead to 56-48. Cain found space and made a driving layup to cap the 12-5 run with 1:28 left in the game.
The Blue and Gold hit a bunch of free throws down the stretch to clinch the win with Saddler going 4-for-6 in the final minute. UNCG won the rebounding battle grabbing 41 rebounds, including 34 on the defensive end in the win.
The Spartans will be off until next Thursday when they return home to the Greensboro Coliseum for the first of two straight home games. UNCG will host The Citadel Thursday at 7 p.m. before welcoming in Davidson Jan. 18 at 5 p.m.
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