Second-half surge lifts UNCG to 79-68 win over Western Carolina
GREENSBORO, NC – UNC Greensboro scored 20 of the first 27 points of the second half to pull away from Western Carolina in the second half for a 79-68 win in Southern Conference men’s basketball action at Fleming Gym on Wednesday night.
After leading by 18 midway through the second half, UNCG managed just one field goal over a six-minute span. But UNCG managed to make its free throws for the second-straight game. After going 35-for-45 at the line against Elon on Monday, the Spartans were 32-for-43 at the stripe on Wednesday.
Senior guard Ricky Hickman led the way for UNCG (14-12, 11-5 SoCon) with 19 points. The Winston-Salem, NC native became UNCG’s all-time leader in free throws with 397, breaking the mark of 395 set by Courtney Eldridge. He was 11-for-14 at the line on Wednesday after going 15-for-18 at the line on Monday.
Western Carolina (10-16, 7-8) got a double-double from freshman Nick Aldridge with 28 points and 11 rebounds. Arnold Gore added 14 points and seven rebounds. Brandon Giles chipped in with 11 points.
Playing without their leading scorer Kyle Hines, who was serving a mandatory one-game suspension for his ejection from Monday’s game against Elon, the Spartans had to find themselves early on. Playing the final 15 minutes of Monday night’s game without Hines was one thing. Playing 40 minutes without arguably the top player in the Southern Conference was going to be a little different.
But UNCG has as many field goal attempts as free throw attempts (43) and held Western Carolina to 37.7 percent shooting from the floor to earn the win and wrap up one of the coveted byes in the upcoming Southern Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament. With two conference games remaining, UNCG can finish no worse than second in the SoCon North and can be seeded no lower than fifth in the tournament, which begins February 28 in North Charleston, SC.
“We wanted to push it on offense from the very start just like we did on Monday night against Elon,” said Hickman. “We got a little sloppy at times with the ball and had some turnovers, but that is probably a result of not having Kyle. At the same time, though, winning like this – without him – gives a lot of guys confidence. We’ve proven that we can win without him. We got a big lift from a lot of guys tonight.
“Coach has been in my ear about not settling for as many three-point looks and get back to driving to the basket to create some things,” said Hickman. “It worked well again tonight.”
UNCG also got 13 points each from junior Kevin Oleksiak and freshman Mikko Koivisto and 10 points from freshman Ben Stywall. Oleksiak, a native of Abington, PA, was in double figures for the fourth time in the last six games. It was Koivisto’s 11th game of 10 or more points this season.
“We always look to get into our running game early on,” said UNCG coach Mike Dement. “We were able to get up and down the floor and were able to get some transition baskets. Bart Tooms got free a couple of times and got an easy basket or two that way and that helped. We weren’t as good defensively in the first half at times and we looked around and said to them, ‘is Kyle our defense?’ Then we seemed to do a better job on the defensive end – giving up 41 in the first half, but holding them to 21 in the second half.
“We got a big lift tonight down low from a couple of guys. Tooms, Matt Akinosho, Pete Brown all gave us good minutes. We even had to go to Greg Vlazny for a few minutes down there for some foul trouble.”
After falling behind 7-2 to open the game, UNCG found a rhythm as it scored 10 straight points, capped off by a Ben Stywall dunk. That would also be Western Carolina's last lead of the night.
The Spartans opened the lead up to nine a couple of times, including a 32-23 lead midway through the first half. The pace slowed somewhat from there as the teams combined for just five points in the next three minutes, but UNCG held its first double-digit lead of the game at 35-25.
The Catamounts scored nine of the next 11 to pull to within three, 37-34, capped off by Arnold Gore’s three-pointer with 4:11 to play in the first half. In fact, UNCG went nearly nine minutes between baskets, but Kendall Toney’s three-pointer with 36 left before intermission helped secure a 44-41 Spartan lead at the break.
An 10-2 run to open the second half, including a pair of treys by Hickman, gave UNCG its largest to that point, 54-43, with 17 minutes to play.
UNCG opened the lead up to as much as 18 before Western Carolina made a move to get back in it. A 14-4 run by the Catamounts cut the margin back to single-digits, 72-64, with 4:30 to play.
The Catamounts had two chances to cut it to six, but could not capitalize from the foul line. With 2:49 to play, Aldridge missed a pair of free throws. The Spartans missed on their next possession, but Gore missed the front end of a one-and-one and UNCG went back to work on the clock. This time, Hickman dribbled around enough to get open for the driving lay-up to give UNCG a 10-point advantage and put away the victory.
UNCG will host UNC Wilmington in a BracketBusters series game on Saturday at Fleming Gym. The Spartans will salute five seniors prior to the 7 pm tip-off.
SIDELINES: With Hines’ having to sit out Monday’s game, it broke his 54-game streak of consecutive starts. Hines was the last remaining player to have started every game this season. In addition, it meant UNCG had to use its 11th different starting combination of the season. Matt Akinosho took Hines’ plaace in the lineup... Hines’ 46-game streak of scoring 10 or more points is not affected by his Wednesday night absence... Hines absence resulted in one of the shorter post players you’ll see in Division I. Second-year walk-on Greg Vlazny, who plays every position on the scout team, saw some time in the UNCG frontcourt in both halves as three players had two or more first half fouls. Vlazny stands only 6-1... Western Carolina’s Kyle Greathouse returned to the lineup on Wednesday night. Greathouse was injured in a one-vehicle car accident early in the morning of Jan. 24. He was suspended three games by the team after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor DUI charge. He played four minutes and did not score... The Catamounts had 10 players in uniform and all 10 saw action in the game’s first 11 minutes... How important are Southern Conference tournament byes? No team has won four straight games in the SoCon tournament to win the tournament since 1939.
UNCG 79, WESTERN CAROLINA 68
WESTERN CAROLINA (10-16, 7-8)
ALDRIDGE, Nick 12-23 4-11 28; GORE, Arnold 5-12 3-5 14; GILES, Brandon 4-9 2-5 11; RUSSELL, Antonio 1-2 2-2 4; WILSON, Eric 2-4 0-0 4; WAGINGER, Brigham 1-6 0-0 3; McKENNA, Negus 0-2 2-2 2; ROBINSON, Jake 1-11 0-0 2; GREATHOUSE, Kyle 0-0 0-0 0; DEES, Josh 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-69 13-25 68.
UNCG (14-12, 11-5)
HICKMAN, Ricky 3-9 11-14 19; OLEKSIAK, Kevin 4-9 4-4 13; KOIVISTO, Mikko 5-8 1-1 13; STYWALL, Ben 2-4 6-8 10; TONEY, Kendall 3-4 0-0 8; TOOMS, Bart 1-2 5-8 7; BROWN, Pete 1-3 4-6 6; AKINOSHO, Matt 1-2 0-0 2; JOHNSON, Dwayne 0-2 1-2 1; VLAZNY, Greg 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-43 32-43 79.
3-point goals--Western Carolina 3-21 (GILES, Brandon 1-1; WAGINGER, Brigham 1-5; GORE, Arnold 1-4; McKENNA, Negus 0-2; ROBINSON, Jake 0-8; ALDRIDGE, Nick 0-1), UNCG 7-20 (TONEY, Kendall 2-3; KOIVISTO, Mikko 2-5; HICKMAN, Ricky 2-5; OLEKSIAK, Kevin 1-5; JOHNSON, Dwayne 0-1; TOOMS, Bart 0-1). Fouled out--Western Carolina-None, UNCG-AKINOSHO, Matt. Rebounds—Western Carolina 42 (ALDRIDGE, Nick 11), UNCG 35 (STYWALL, Ben 8; TOOMS, Bart 8). Assists--Western Carolina 10 (ALDRIDGE, Nick 4), UNCG 8 (STYWALL, Ben 3). Total fouls--Western Carolina 27, UNCG 21. Technical fouls—Western Carolina-None, UNCG-None. A-756
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