No. 1 UNCG Going Dancing In 2021
ASHEVILLE, N.C. – In the end, the defense of the UNC Greensboro (UNCG) men’s basketball team didn’t rest.
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The top-seeded Spartans held seventh-seeded Mercer without a basket for the final 3 minutes, 40 seconds to pull away and claim a hard-fought 69-61 victory in the Ingles SoCon Basketball Championships presented by General Shale Brick at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center Monday night.
In winning its third SoCon Tournament championship in program history, UNCG became the seventh unified champion of the SoCon since 2013. The Spartans also won the conference regular season crown.
The Spartans’ second half defense stymied the Bears, as they made 10 buckets in the final 20 minutes. Playing from behind for the majority of the second half, Mercer was forced to take more three-pointers than they may have liked, but UNCG forced their opponents to just 1-for-15 shooting from beyond the arc.
Senior guard Isaiah Miller showed out with a double-double on 25 points and 12 rebounds, as he combined with Southwest Guilford High School’s Keyshaun Langley (15) for 40 of the Spartans’ points on the evening, to give UNCG their second NCAA tournament appearance in the last four years.
“This is a special feeling,” Isaiah Miller said. “I wanted to leave my mark here at UNCG. One thing I want to say is we’re not done. I am still going to try and make more history here. There was so much emotion man. When I saw my teammates come and dogpile with me, it was best feeling ever even though it hurt. I was still with my guys. I have to thank all of the older players of this program for leading me this way.”
Miller was named the SoCon Tournament’s most outstanding player. He was the first player to have 25 points, 10 or more rebounds, and five or more assists in a conference tournament title game since Weber State’s Damian Lilliard did in 2012.
In its three tournament victories over The Citadel, ETSU, and Mercer, UNCG outscored its opponents, 32-11, in the final three minutes.
“This is very emotional,” UNCG head men’s basketball coach Wes Miller said. “The pandemic has been challenging for people all over the world, and these kids went through so much to get here. To see them accomplish this and reach their goal, it’s just an awesome feeling. Isaiah made some big-time shots down the stretch and we really played well defensively in the last few minutes.”
“Mercer had an incredible run in this tournament and just played great. They made this a very hard game to win.”
From the tip-off it was clear that Mercer’s plan on defense was not to let Miller beat them, and force the remainder of the Spartan lineup to make plays. UNCG’s senior guard showed his ability to do more than just score in the opening stages of the first half, dishing out four assists in the first 10 minutes of the game.
Miller still finished with nine points in the first half, but he would be just ahead of Keyshaun Langley’s seven. Starting center Mohammed Abdulsalam poured in six while making his presence felt on the inside, pulling down three offensive boards in the process.
Neither side led by more than possession in the opening 20 minutes, with the lead changing hands eight times before the halftime whistle. Miller’s fourth field goal of the night proved to be the difference maker, hitting a shot from just inside three-point range to give the Spartans a 33-32 advantage at the half.
The three-ball kept Mercer in the game during the opening period, with 12 of the Bears’ 32 points coming from beyond the arc. The Bears made a point to take care of the ball when facing the top turnover defense in the conference on Monday, but that didn’t stop UNCG from forcing 10 Mercer turnovers before halftime, recording a trio of steals in the process.
UNCG’s work on the offensive glass improved in the early stages of the second half, with the Spartans limiting Mercer’s own possession. After scoring six in the first 2:03 of the second half, the Bears went on a scoring drought of four minutes and seven seconds to give the Spartans their first two-possession advantage of the night with 14:34 remaining in regulation.
After retaking the lead at the 18:24 mark, the Spartans did not cough up their advantage for more than 12 minutes, with the Bears retaking the lead with just over six minutes remaining, 53-52.
Mercer wouldn’t lead for the rest of the night however, with Miller and Langley combining for 16 of their team’s 19 points in the final eight minutes.
Miller completed his double-double with over three minutes remaining on a put back layup, hitting four of his five attempts in the final seven minutes while scoring 11 of his game-high 25 during that stretch.
for-15 shooting from beyond the arc to clinch the 69-61 victory and a trip to the 2021 NCAA Championship tournament.
Inside the Numbers
Isaiah Miller has 99 double-digit scoring performances for his career.
UNCG’s fifth straight 20-win season ties for the fifth-longest in SoCon history, a mark currently shared by ETSU.
UNCG is now an even 3-3 all-time in the SoCon finals.
Miller has 1,950 career points.
Miller has scored in double figures in 45 of UNCG’s last 47 games
Keyshaun Langley has scored in double-figures 13 times in his career, 10 of those have come since the start of February
Miller’s double-double is the fifth of his career. Four of those have come in this season alone
The SoCon Media Poll’s Player of the Year has seen his team go on to win the SoCon tournament 26 times since 1957, Miller has earned SoCon POTY and Defensive POTY in each of the last two years.
Wes Miller has 185 career wins, just two back of legendary NC State coach Everett Case in SoCon history. Miller is currently 14th on the SoCon’s all-time coaching wins list.
UNCG started each game in the SoCon Tourney with a 3-pointer.
Mercer opened the game by making 9 of its first 17 shots (52.9 percent).
Isaiah Miller’s buzzer-beating shot to end the 1st half was his fifth this season.