by Rob Daniels, UNCGSpartans.com
It would be easy to suggest these UNCG Spartans keep fans on the edge of their seats, but that presumes the inclination to sit in the first place. At this point, the patrons of the Greensboro Coliseum know the chair eventually becomes as useful as a cellist in a punk band.
In tying the school record with six straight Southern Conference wins, the Spartans have done more than rebound from the depths of the standings to the North Division's top spot; they have redefined the compelling coda.
Four times in this stretch, they've lost leads of seven or more points in the final minutes of regulation. At least twice, they were nearly certain of defeat. Two other times, they had to go to overtime.
But eventually -- no matter how they extended the drama or accelerated the aging process on their 29-year-old coach -- they've prevailed.
"I think this group has learned how to handle adversity," said Wes Miller, the assistant promoted to the top job upon the December departure of Mike Dement. "They may have learned how to handle it off the floor first. Over the past year and a half, they have learned that negative things are going to happen. And then it's more about how you react."
UNCG has won its past six games, and all of the victories have come by nine or fewer points. It's the only team in the country that can make both claims.
But that doesn't begin to explain it.
It started on a night when the buzzer sounded and the Spartans were trailing on the scoreboard. Twice.
But after video replay gave them another chance with 0.9 seconds to go and a player from The Citadel curiously slapped a pass out of bounds in celebration rather than catch it in caution, the Spartans were still alive. Basketball teams work on late-game situations often, but nobody covers this stuff: half a second to go possession 25 feet from the basket. About 99.44 percent of desperate situations involve a little more time and a lot more space than UNCG had to deal with.
So the play had no name. Trevis Simpson curled off a screen from the top of the key and bolted toward the basket with a realist's guess about what would happen next.
"I did not expect to be that open," he said. "They were hollering, 'Lob!' I thought we'd have to go to Plan B in a split second."
That would have been Korey Van Dussen from deep on the wing. But when the Bulldogs didn't switch on the key screen, Simpson was, in fact, the only choice. His dunk provided the third lead change of the game's final eight seconds.
Again the clock ran out. Again a fraction of a second was restored. This time it didn't matter.
UNCG had won with a play it had never practiced and had contemplated for about 30 seconds.
"No genius on my part," Miller said. "The amazing part of it all was that they executed it with good timing."
Two games later, the Spartans trailed Samford 60-59 in the final 10 seconds. They again tried to isolate Simpson, but this time, there was no miraculously open space and no chance for aesthetic beauty. It took a David Williams tip-in with 2.8 seconds to go.
"We did a nice job of not freezing," Miller said. "Guys kept playing. And to me, it wasn't a fluke because David is so good at getting to the glass."
As Simpson put it, "He's a rebounding maniac."
In each of the past two games, the Spartans haven't exactly closed out the other guy. They led Appalachian State by seven points with 1:28 left in regulation and had an eight-point second-half edge on Western Carolina. Both advantages dissipated.
Twice, UNCG walked to the bench with the possibility of real dejection. Instead, it saw opportunity.
"They weren't thinking about having blown a lead," assistant coach J.B. Tanner said. "They played with confidence in overtime."
Simpson said the confidence stemmed from something that took less than one second on the clock. If they could pull off that impromptu play in Charleston, starting over and having five minutes to regroup would be comparatively simple.
They went 11-for-11 from the foul line in the extra session against the Catamounts and 9-of-12 against the Mountaineers. Suddenly, they were the hottest team in the SoCon and one of the most exciting in the country.
The Citadel is in town on Thursday. Another win would give UNCG the longest league winning streak in its 15 seasons of SoCon membership.
And, no, it's not a great idea to make any guesses.
"We have to learn not to relax," Simpson said. "We have to learn that no lead is safe."