SPARTANBURG, S.C. – The UNCG men’s basketball team rallied from a 15-point deficit with a stunning second half performance as the Spartans notched a come-from-behind 73-71 victory over Southern Conference foe Wofford Saturday night at Benjamin Johnson Arena.
The victory improves the Spartans to 7-9 in SoCon play and secures them the sixth seed in the upcoming SoCon Tournament. UNCG will face No. 11 seed The Citadel in the first round Friday afternoon in Asheville with a 4 p.m. tip-off. The loss drops Wofford to the third seed in the league tournament and an 11-5 league mark.
“It was a great second half effort by our guys tonight,” head coach Wes Miller said. “That is the team that I want us to be – the toughness, the togetherness and the fight we showed. For that 20 minutes in the second half, we had that winning mentality. We had that only thinking of the team and what it takes to win mentality. This is a great win for our young group coming in a very tough place to place against a very good Wofford team.”
The Spartans (14-17, 7-9) out-scored the Terriers 44-33 in the second half as they caught fire on offense against the league’s top defensive team. UNCG connected on a staggering 78.3 percent (18-of-23) from the field, including both three-pointers attempted, and hit 6-of-7 (85.7%) from the free throw line in the half. The Spartans also dominated play on the glass in the final 20 minutes, out-rebounding the Terriers by a 13-6 margin.
Sophomore forward Kayel Locke (Baltimore, Md./McDonogh) paced four Spartans in double figures scoring with a game-high 17 points as he was 6-of-8 from the field and 5-of-6 from the free throw line. Freshman guard Tevon Saddler (Aberdeen, Md./St. Frances Academy) added 14 points, including the Spartans final four points of the game in the last two minutes.
Redshirt freshman center R.J. White (Frisco, Texas/Frisco) continued his strong play of late, scoring 13 points and grabbing six rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench as he was 6-of-10 from the field. Junior Kyle Cain (Chicago, Ill./Arizona State) added 10 points and eight rebounds to round out the double figure scorers. Cain scored eight of his 10 points in the second half when he was 5-of-6 from the field.
Wofford (17-12, 11-5) finished the game shooting 49.1 percent (27-of-55) from the field and 33.3 percent (5-of-15) from long range. The Terriers were off from the free throw line though, connecting on just 54.5 percent (12-of-22). Spencer Collins led Wofford with 15 points, only two of which came in the second half, while Karl Cochran chipped in 12 points.
Wofford came out of the gate quickly, opening the game on a 10-1 run and taking an early 15-3 lead forcing the Spartans into an early timeout. The Terriers hit six of their first nine shots from the field with Collins leading the way with seven early points. The Spartans conversely hit just one of their first six shots and committed three early turnovers in the early going.
UNCG started to settle in and posted an 8-3 run to narrow the gap to 18-11. Whitecame off the bench and scored four points in the spurt, helping the Spartans slow the momentum from the Terriers. Wofford stretched the lead to double figures at 32-19 but the Spartans kept battling and Saddlerhit two free throws on the final possession to send the game into the locker room with Wofford leading 38-29.
UNCG connected on 45.8 percent (11-of-24) from the field and hit 2-of-4 (50%) from long range in the opening half. The Spartans committed five first half turnovers while the Terriers did not commit a miscue in the opening 20 minutes. Locke led the Spartans with nine points while White and Saddler each had six points. Wofford connected on 50 percent (15-of-30) from the field and 33.3 percent (3-of-9) from long range. Collins led all scorers with 13 points in the first half while Jaylen Allen added eight points.
The Terriers extended their lead to double figures early in the second half at 44-33 after Lee Skinner scored in the paint. The Spartans started their rally from that point on, notching a 12-1 run to tie the game at 45-45. Locke got the momentum going with back-to-back baskets in the paint before White scored another in the post to make it a three-point game. Cain scored on consecutive possessions in the post as UNCG dominated play on the inside to make the game knotted at 45-45.
The game went back-and-forth until it was tied at 52-52 with 9:40 remaining. The Spartans broke the game open with a 13-5 run to take its largest lead at 65-57. White gave the Spartans the lead for good with a basket in the lane before freshman guard Diante Baldwin (Greensboro, N.C./High Point Christian) came up with five straight points. Baldwin nailed a three-pointer on the break in the corner and then single-handedly scored another basket as he forced a turnover at midcourt and beat three Wofford defenders to score in traffic.
After Cain scored to put UNCG in front 69-61, the Terriers made a run down the stretch with the crowd behind them, posting a 10-4 spurt to make it a one-possession game. Eric Garcia scored five straight points, including a three-pointer in the corner, while Cochran hit a deep three-pointer. The Spartans were held to just two field goals in the final five minutes, but Saddler came up with both baskets, which proved to be enough down the stretch.
UNCG came up with the final stop of the game as Wofford got possession with 19.1 seconds after an offensive foul was called on the Spartans. UNCG’s defense swarmed Cochran as he forced a contested shot up from 15 feet that was well off the mark and Saddler grabbed the rebound with three second remaining. He wisely threw it down court high in the air, allowing the time to run off the clock securing the victory.
The victory marked just the second win in the last 12 games for the Spartans against Wofford and UNCG is just the third team this year to post a win on the road against the Terriers. Baldwin finished the game with seven points while senior guard Drew Parker (Houston, Texas/La Porte) added six points as he hit both of his three-pointers in the victory.
UNCG opens the 2014 SoCon Tournament Friday afternoon at the US Cellular Center in Asheville. The sixth-seeded Spartans will face off against 11th-seeded The Citadel at 4 p.m.
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