By Rob Daniels
GREENSBORO, N.C. – It took Trevis Simpson's teammates a while to catch up to him. And when they did, the UNCG Spartans were on their way to a second-half turnaround and a resounding 77-69 victory over Davidson that might be their best performance in three years.
Simpson, the only UNCG player of substance in a trying first half, finished with 33 points – a school record for a freshman in the Division I era – as the club earned its first home win of the year and its second straight overall after it began the campaign with 15 losses. The Spartans followed last Thursday's victory at Appalachian State by shooting 59 percent from the floor after the break to eradicate a 10-point deficit, build a 66-53 lead and hang on.
Asked if he felt a sense of relief, coach Mike Dement said, "Maybe at App. Today, it was a sense that, 'Hey, that was pretty good.' You could see a whole different body language, a different way about our guys."
They gathered as they always do at midcourt to reflect and thank the fans for their loyalty. It was different on Monday.
"Usually, at that time, we've lost and the crowd is walking out of the coliseum," said forward Aaron Brackett, who delivered 11 points and eight rebounds. "But tonight, the crowd was still there. There was cheering. There were smiles everywhere. A nice feeling to get that first win at home."
Simpson, a 6-foot-4 guard from Douglas, Ga., who entered the game shooting 32.7 percent from the floor, was 12-for-15 against the Wildcats. Without his 6-of-8 effort in the first half, the Spartans would have been in far greater trouble than their 35-28 deficit suggested. Those not named Simpson were 5-for-21. Center Aloysius Henry, UNCG's leading scorer for the season, didn't get a field goal until 6:49 remained.
The home team still trailed 45-40 before a stretch of confident and seemingly improbable accuracy that stunned Davidson and changed the game. The Spartans scored on eight consecutive possessions, going 7-for-7 from the floor in the run, which was part of a larger 24-6 spurt. Simpson and Korey Van Dussen combined for 16 points in less than four minutes.
"They had eight blocked shots," Davidson coach Bob McKillop said. "Between the eight blocked shots and our 19 turnovers, they erased a lot of scoring opportunities for us. Not only did they erase them; they converted."
In a zone and out of his skull, Simpson nailed contested 3-pointers, running one-handers and virtually anything else he wanted. The final point total is the highest by a Spartan since Kyle Hines, the program's most acclaimed player, had 33 against Furman in the Southern Conference tournament on March 1, 2007. It's the third-highest by a freshman in the nation this season. Only Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, who dropped 40 on IUPUI last month, and Kentucky's Terrence Jones, who had 35 against Auburn last week, have surpassed Simpson's effort among rookies.
"Trevis Simpson?" intoned John Kilgo, the veteran radio voice of Davidson basketball. "Where did they get this guy?"
The issue wasn't where they got him as much as where he had been, and he had been in a tough place thanks to a preseason injury to his left (non-shooting) shoulder and an early-season flu bug. Only last Thursday did athletic trainers free him of the protective harness that had been his on-court companion since October.
"When you've been playing basketball for 14 years, it comes naturally," Simpson said. "You have (the brace) on for a while, but you get your stroke in practice and you keep shooting."
For the past couple of weeks, Simpson has been doing that routine after practice with assistant coach Kevin Oleksiak, a pretty fair shooter in his days as a Spartan. During Monday's shoot-around, Oleksiak informed Simpson he was only hours from a breakout performance.
"And I said, 'Coach, if you said it, then it's going to happen," Simpson recalled.
Simpson's personal hot streak of eight points in 90 seconds elevated the Spartans from their final deficit of the night and to a 51-46 lead with 12:21 to play. And once they got out in front, they withstood the Wildcats, whose motion offense and propensity for 3-point shooting can turn around many a game. The Cats went 2-for-13 in the second half after a 7-of-13 start from long range.
"In the second half, our defense made their motion less effective because we were there," Dement said. "We switched well. We communicated better and their shots were tougher."
Shots on the inside were also difficult to come by. David Williams, a 6-6 swing man, had three of the Spartans' eight rejections.
The Spartans will look to make it three in a row on Thursday as they host Georgia Southern at 7 p.m. in the Greensboro Coliseum.
UNCG 77, Davidson 69
DAVIDSON (8-10, 2-5 SoCon)
KUHLMAN, JP 7-15 3-4 19; COHEN, Jake 5-10 3-4 16; COCHRAN, Nik 4-8 0-0 10; MANN, Clint 4-10 0-1 8; MCKILLOP, Brendan 3-10 0-0 8; DRONEY, Tom 3-7 2-3 8; DOWNING, Jordan 0-1 0-0 0; CZERAPOWICZ, Chris 0-0 0-0 0; ALLISON, Ben 0-2 0-0 0; BROOKS, De'Mon 0-2 0-0 0; REIGEL, Will 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 26-66 8-12 69.
UNCG (2-15, 2-5 SoCon)
SIMPSON, Trevis 12-15 5-5 33; BRACKETT, Aaron 4-9 3-6 11; VAN DUSSEN, Korey 3-8 1-3 8; HENRY, Aloysius 2-5 2-3 6; RANDALL, Kyle 2-8 1-2 5; WILLIAMS, David 1-2 2-6 5; PARKER, Drew 2-3 0-2 4; EVANS, Brandon 0-3 3-4 3; COLE, Brian 1-2 0-0 2; HENEGAR, Cody 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 27-56 17-31 77.
Davidson...................... 35 34 - 69
UNCG.......................... 28 49 - 77
3-point goals--Davidson 9-26 (COHEN, Jake 3-4; KUHLMAN, JP 2-7; COCHRAN, Nik 2-4; MCKILLOP, Brendan 2-9; DOWNING, Jordan 0-1; DRONEY, Tom 0-1), UNCG 6-15 (SIMPSON, Trevis 4-6; VAN DUSSEN, Korey 1-3; WILLIAMS, David 1-2; RANDALL, Kyle 0-2; EVANS, Brandon 0-1; COLE, Brian 0-1). Fouled out--Davidson-MCKILLOP, Brendan; MANN, Clint, UNCG-None. Rebounds—Davidson 43 (DRONEY, Tom 9), UNCG 34 (BRACKETT, Aaron 8). Assists--Davidson 14 (KUHLMAN, JP 4), UNCG 14 (PARKER, Drew 5; RANDALL, Kyle 5). Total fouls--Davidson 22, UNCG 16. Technical fouls--Davidson-None, UNCG-None. A-2792
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