Greensboro is big enough for two growth programs to thrive.
Yes they technically are mid-majors but when you actually sit down and watch both of these programs dig in and play defense, nobody would deny these two teams could both be Dancing come March.
So on election night when there is sometimes close races but only one winner, UNCG prevailed over its intercity rival A&T 74-66.
The Spartans were led by Francis Alonso’s 23 points and Isaiah Miller’s 16pts, 4 steals and 3 assists in 26 minutes off the bench. James Dickey started his defense as SOCON Defensive player of the year with 7 pts, 10 rebounds and a remarkable 7 blocks, 6 in the second half alone. Redshirt Freshman Kaleb Hunter was impressive off the bench with 11 points in just 13 minutes of play.
It was a solid effort by Jay Joyner’s Aggies. “We’re not mature enough yet to beat a really good team like UNCG, A&T coach Jay Joyner said. “We have talent, not big on excuses but, UNCG is a well-oiled machine right now.”
There are positives to be taken for both teams in this Battle for the Boro. For A&T they can take solace in the fact that they played the best team in the Southern Conference, one of the best defensive teams in the country to a stalemate for the majority of the game. Qua Copeland had 13 points in his Aggie debut and another newcomer
Ibrahim Sylla chipped in with 12 points and 6 rebounds. As they mesh and continue to grow, a game like this will be winnable moving forward. Coach Joyner has A&T moving in a great direction for the future.
UNCG for all their preseason accolades has had Coach Wes Miller searching for new voices on his defense to replace his two best on ball defenders, Jordy Kuiper and Marvin Smith. “In the first half we were late to the ball, on defensive rebounds, rotation, or 50/50 balls UNCG Coach Wes Miller said. “In the 2nd half we were quicker to the ball but we’re not a disciplined team yet, nor are we a good defensive team but we did make great effort plays on the ball and some of those plays lead to run outs”
The game itself was a helter skelter physical contest that saw multiple lead changes in the first half with the Aggies taking a slim 39-38 lead at halftime.
Enter Isaiah Miller.
The sophomore dynamo who’s instant offense and defensive intensity propelled his teammates on a 10-0 run to take a 54-44 lead with 15:02 remaining in the game. The Spartans never looked back, the game never got closer than 7 points. The punctuation mark came with 1 minute remaining as Miller went coast to coast, rose up from just inside the free throw line, cocked it back and dunked it so hard they heard it back in his native town of Newton, GA. Senior Francis Alonso loves what he sees from his back court mate. “Guys like Isaiah bring so much energy and intensity that it’s contagious, he helps create momentum”
Games like this will help the young Spartans solidify a team that feels they are capable of playing with any team in the country. But playing in Greensboro on the road in front of a rabid Aggie fan base was fun all around, Coach Miller agreed, “It was an unbelievable atmosphere. I can see why people think this is so important to Greensboro.” “I think our players really enjoyed it, it was a difficult environment to play in but a fun one as well.” He continued, “This will help us as we have more challenges on the road and help us dig in when were in another tough place to play, this was really neat”
The keys to a Spartan return to the NCAA tournament may very well be in the combination of Francis Alonso’s wry smile and swagger and the ferocity of Isaiah Miller’s defense and jumping ability that rivals anyone’s in college basketball. “When I’m out there playing with brothers in this type of environment it’s always fun, so I can’t help but smile, it felt really great to meet this challenge. Glad we got the W.”
Both teams have a difficult road challenges ahead of them, UNCG goes to play 21st ranked LSU in Baton Rouge, and then UNC Wilmington on the road. The Aggies have a murderer’s row of games lined up against Wake Forest, Maryland, Hofstra, Marshall and Mt. St Mary’s all on the road.
One thing stood out for me as this rivalry was renewed, the game was won by the Spartans, but the evening belonged to Greensboro.
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