UNCG Advances To SoCon Championship
ASHEVILLE, N.C. – It took some time, but once the UNC Greensboro (UNCG) men’s basketball team figured out how to slow down the endless ball screen action of East Tennessee State, there was no stopping the top-seeded Spartans.
UNCG made a season-best 12 3-pointers, committed a season-low four turnovers, and rocked the rim with explosive dunks to defeat ETSU, 77-65, in the semifinals of the Ingles Southern Conference Championships presented by General Shale Brick at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center Sunday.
The Spartans unleashed a breathtaking display of slam-dunking and sky-walking during a second-half surge that carried them to their fifth consecutive 20-win season. More importantly, the offensive pyrotechnics combined with lockdown defense to lift UNCG into its sixth SoCon championship game in program history.
It’s also UNCG’s fourth championship game appearance in the last five years.
“That was a heck of a college basketball game,” Miller said. “That was two good basketball teams competing every possession. I have to tip my cap to Jason and his club. I thought we guarded at a much better rate in the second half. We dug down, guarded the ball screen better and got our defense set.”
UNCG (20-8 overall) will meet Mercer Monday night at 7 p.m. on ESPN. UNCG beat Mercer, 81-68, on Jan. 27 in Greensboro and 77-74 on Feb. 13 in Macon, Georgia, The winner of that game will earn the SoCon’s automatic qualifying bid to the NCAA Tournament in Indianapolis.
SoCon Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Isaiah Miller led UNCG with 21 points for the second consecutive contest. The 6-foot, 1-inch senior from Covington, Georgia also added seven rebounds, five assists, four steals, and three amazing dunks that shook the Harrah’s Center to its core.
Sophomore guard Keyshaun Langley(Southwest Guilford High School) was splendid in finishing with 11 points and seven assists. Two of his assists led to alley-oop dunks. More on them later. He scored five points in the final two minutes. His 3-pointer with 1:48 remaining provided the necessary comfort for the Spartans.
Clinging to a 68-63 lead and having been held without a basket for over five minutes, Langley swished a deep 3-pointer from in front of UNCG’s bench that swelled the Spartans lead to eight.
A.J. McGinnis scored nine points while Mohammed Abdulsalam and Hayden Koval chipped in with eight points each. All of McGinnis’ points came during the first half and they helped UNCG escape from an early 28-19 deficit in the opening 12 minutes.
“We had some success in transition offense,” Wes Miller said. “It’s just nice to see us come out with a win. I thought it was a full team effort from top to bottom in our rotation and we are elated to be playing for a conference championship. We struggled at times in transition and guarding the ball screen in transition. On the offensive end, we made some big-time shots in the first half to stay in it. I thought AJ and Jarrett’s shots were a huge lift. Guys kind kept us in it when it could’ve gotten away from us.”
ETSU opened the contest by making 11 of its first 22 shot attempts before UNCG gradually started applying the clamps and shrinking its deficit.
As usual, beneath the fireworks, was the heart-and-soul of UNCG’s second victory over ETSU in eight days, which was defense. UNCG limited the Bucs to 26 points in the second-half to pull away from a slim 40-39 halftime advantage. The Spartans also forced eight of ETSU’s 12 turnovers in the second half and scored 10 points off of those miscues.
The Spartans never trailed after intermission.
Now back to the alley-oops.
Langley found his brother Kobe — a few seconds after Kobe took a charge on the defensive end – for a dunk. Then in the second half, with Langley running the fast break at full speed, he lobbed a high pass to Miller, who caught the ball at its apex and flushed it through the basket.
“I saw (Damari Monsanto) on their team was jogging back and I saw Keyshaun had (Ty Brewer) on him, so I was like I might as well run my butt off to help my guy out,” Isaiah Miller said. “I called for it. I put my hand there. I didn’t think he was going to throw it that high but I ended up catching it.”
Ty Brewer (15 points), David Sloan (13) and Ladarrius Brewer (11) reached double figures for ETSU.
The play that stands out the most for Wes Miller occurred late in the game from junior guard Kaleb Hunter. With UNCG in an offensive drought and momentum teetering to the other side, Hunter threw a bad pass that ETSU snatched and started heading the other way for a potential basket and a three-point deficit with lots of time remaining.
Hunter refused to give up on the play. He immediately chased down Brewer and got the steal to give possession back to UNCG. That set the stage for Langley’s clutch triple.
“His effort to hustle back and get a deflection to get a steal and get the ball back for us was another one of those big-time plays in a big-time game,” Wes Miller said. “He made a mistake and didn’t hang his head. That was a huge moment that they could’ve converted. I thought ETSU had a really good game plan and it was not easy for us to guard them early. I thought our whole team contributed to this win.”
Inside the Numbers
UNCG has won four consecutive SoCon semifinal contests.
UNCG’s fifth straight 20-win season ties for the fifth-longest in SoCon history, a mark currently shared by ETSU.
The No. 1 seed in the SoCon tournament has reached the final every year since 2015.
UNCG is 6-3 all-time in the SoCon semifinals.
Miller has scored in double figures 26 times this season and 98 times in his career.
Miller made two 3-pointers for the first time in a game since Jan. 2 against ETSU.
With his 3-pointer to beat the first-half buzzer, Miller has four such shots this season.
Miller has 1,925 career points and 313 steals.
Miller has scored in double figures in 43 of UNCG’s last 45 games.
Abdulsalam finished with six rebounds, which is the 19th time this season he finished with at least that many boards.
Langley has 13 games this season in which he’s handed out at least four assists.
Allegri has 31 games over the last two years in which he’s made at least two 3-pointers.
Allegri has 118 career 3-pointers.
Jarrett Hensley and McGinnis combined for 14 of UNCG’s first-half 18 bench points.
Neither team attempted a foul shot in the first half.
Langley attempted the game’s first free throw with 16:06 remaining in the game.
UNCG had assists on 14 of its 28 baskets.
UNCG beat Mercer twice and split a pair of games against VMI.