The Look Back
The Trap Game:
UNCG at Western Carolina, Cullowhee, NC
UNCG basketball was at a crossroads just two weeks ago. They were 14-2, undefeated in conference play, and ranked number 3 in the latest Mid-Major national polls. Then Wofford came to town, and reminded them, as well as the rest of the college basketball world, that the Southern Conference is an absolute grinder of top-flight basketball.
UNCG’s 29-point loss reminded them of their roots. A win vs formerly Top 25 ranked Furman followed. The Spartans then took their talents to Western Carolina and the rebuilding Catamounts. Western had won 3 of 4 coming to the game at home vs UNCG. Cullowhee has been a place, that historically, the Spartans have struggled to find their footing. Even in games they have been victorious. Last Thursday it was no different. Western was led by Carlos Dotson’s 15 pts and 10 rebounds at the half as the Catamounts looked to trap the Spartans before their showdown in Johnson City vs ETSU.
A late 5-point deficit had Spartan fans thinking exactly that, a trap game, or a look ahead. But as these Spartans have done time and time again this season, and in the Wes Miller era, they dug deep and finished strong. James Dickey sparked a 17-2 run to end the game and any hopes of an upset as UNCG finished off the Catamounts, 69-60 in Cullowhee, NC.
Leading the way for the Spartans was Francis Alonso 20 pts, James Dickey, 8pts 11 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 steals. Demetrious Troy has continued to show incredible leadership from the PG position finishing with 8 pts and dishing out 7 assists. Isiah Miller continued his consistent play with 15 pts in his new-found starting role.
The win pushed UNCG’s record to 16-3 and 5-1 in conference.
UNCG at East Tennessee State University, at Freedom Hall Civic Center
Styles make fights, or so the saying goes, when we talk about the sweet science of boxing. There isn’t a more evident reality in basketball, when two equally talented ballclubs fight it out in conference play.
UNCG traveled to renew their new-found conference rivals, the East Tennessee State Buccaneers. The Bucs are led by Head Coach Steve Forbes, who’s four year run in Johnson City have been some of the most successful, in terms of wins, and championships of anyone in the country. The ETSU faithful have come to expect a defense first brand of basketball, that requires a special type of toughness that mimics the city East Tennessee inhabits. Johnson City, TN is a small town, that emanates a bigger city vibe, a mixture of pride and love for their school.
They also have a hell of a rebounding basketball club. The Spartans came into Johnson City knowing they had a tall task of slowing down the nation’s leading rebounding team.
I honestly didn’t know what Spartan team was going to come out at Freedom Hall Civic Center. Was it going to be the team that looked rough against Wofford, or Western Carolina? OR was it the team that outplayed Furman, despite giving up almost 80 points?
The honest answer is, it was neither. It was something newer, something more complete.
The Spartans jumped on the Bucs early with an Alonso three that gave them a 3-0 lead. In an incredible stat, that would be a lead they would never relinquish.
Make no mistake about it, ETSU was game, and it was a war, a battle that UNCG knew was coming.
Styles make fights
Two physical, 16 win teams, the most in the country for two teams combined, went toe to toe for 40 pressure packed minutes.
UNCG started to take command of this prize fight, 17-11 at the under 12-minute media timeout. It was a mixture of solid inside play, and Francis Alonso doing what he does best.
Leadership was always the question at the start of this season for UNCG, and leaders show up in big games. Malik Massey, at one point, sensing they had ETSU maybe on the ropes, turned to Francis Alonso, and said, “TAKE CARE OF THE BALL” forcefully. From the outside it could have been taken as a team in-fighting, but the reality is, this team knows the type of talent it has, and what it can be when it puts it all together and values their possessions.
From its leaders, to its depth, this game was a different animal for UNCG. Enter a fresh-faced new star. Angelo Allegri. The Freshman, 6ft 7in wing from Kansas City, surprised the Bucs with 3 first half three-point shots, leading the Spartans in scoring going into the half.
Greensboro continued to play with poise and fight. Even in the face of a potential brawl half way through the second half the Spartans stayed calm. In a potentially ugly scene, kudos have to be given to players on the court, who separated heated players, and coaches equally, for keeping the players on the bench calm and off the court.
UNCG would balloon it’s lead as much as 16 points, 46-30, before ETSU’s Tray Boyd had a personal 9-0 run to cut into the Spartan lead. If not for that, the game could have turned into a laugher. All and All the stats in this game don’t lie.
UNCG shot 50 percent from 3 and held ETSU to 31 percent. The best rebounding team in the country, was held 10 boards under their average, and only outrebounded the Spartans by 3. UNCG missed only 1 free throw, while the Bucs missed 9.
All and All it was a TOTAL TEAM effort for Greensboro. Angelo Allegri continued and finished with 15 points while shooting 5 of 6 from 3-point range. Kyrin Galloway was perfect from the field, 6-6 with 14 points. James Dickey continued to build off his return from injury only missing 1 shot, with 10 points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocks.
For those who weren’t there, every contribution to this game loomed large. Isaiah Miller came into SOCON action averaging almost 19 points a game. He was held to 6. Most teams wouldn’t be able to recover from that. But this Spartans team is growing into the well-oiled machine it knows it can be. Miller was a defensive havoc maker instead, racking up 6 steals and 6 assists.
Eric Hamilton gave up his body on numerous occasions fighting off Lucas N’Guessan, the ETSU 7-Footer, chipping in 8 rebounds off the bench. And lastly Demetrius Troy was his solid and stable self. That may seem to some, a lack of credit, but “Meat” as he’s called by his team, is a player the Spartans could ill afford to lose. His ability to stabilize the team when they need to slow down, coupled with his innate ability of hitting big shots is immeasurable.
This team isn’t just the Francis Alonso show, man is he good, but what he does for this team is create opportunities for others to shine. And on a Saturday in Johnson City, TN, many of his teammates did just that.
This Spartans finished off the Bucs, 75-68 in Johnson City. They made a statement to the rest of the league in one of the hardest places to play in the country, and with their new-found production, put a few other schools on notice for the rest of the conference season.
The win pushed UNCG’s record to 17-3 and 6-1 in conference.
The Look Ahead
The Citadel @ UNC Greensboro Thursday Jan 24th 7pm, Greensboro Coliseum.
First 1000 fans get a special “black out” T-shirt.
The Citadel is a very interesting team, to say the very least. They average 92.8 points per game, but they give up 86. Not bad right? Well the “Embrace the Pace” mentality that Coach Duggar Baucom has implemented is not without its flaws. The team is very capable of scoring and making life miserable for their more athletic counterparts in the Southern Conference. Ask ETSU about that from last season. An improving team marched into Johnson City and stole a game that could have, at minimum, earned ETSU a share of another SoCON regular season title. Sorry ETSU fans for painful memories, but maybe, Spartan Nation can learn from past mistakes of the attention to detail it takes to face a Duggar Baucom lead team.
They lead the country in pace of play, as well as having skill position players who have given the Spartans fits, led by Matt Frierson and Zane Najdawi. Newcomer, grad transfer, Lew Stallworth is a bull with speed who gets to the rim with ferocity. Citadel is best described by John Hooper, veteran Southern Conference journalist, “The Citadel seems to go as Matt Frierson goes…If Frierson is shooting it well they are really good, If not they are not as effective,…Lew Stallworth might be the strongest point guard in the league at creating his own shot…tough to stop with a full head of steam coming at you.”
Look for UNCG to use their superior athleticism and size to match the Citadel’s pace. No lead is safe against the streaky Bulldogs. They are in the midst of a 7-game losing streak, directly off a 7 game winning streak. Southern Conference folks would most likely pick UNCG to win this game at home in a runaway, but I know better. Spartan Nation hopes that the complete game we saw vs ETSU, will be the norm going forward. But the reality is this Spartans club is still growing. We could very well see a hotly contested game against a team that plays an awkward style, with a wildly fast pace. I don’t think there’s any doubt UNCG wins this game, but it likely will be closer than most people realize.
Look for Isaiah Miller, Francis Alonso to lead again in scoring. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if you see career highs in from multiple players on the Spartans in scoring. Angelo Allegri earned his stripes in the tough environment in Johnson City, look for him to continue his hot 3-point shooting, going 6-7 in combined games against WCU and ETSU.
Prediction: UNCG 99 Citadel 84
Mercer vs UNC Greensboro, Saturday 5 pm
The Mercer Bears come into Greensboro Coliseum an enigma. They are a team that does almost nothing on an elite level, while on the other hand, not doing anything grossly inept that points to specific losses. In other words, they are an average team, capable of playing well and winning anywhere, or playing poorly and losing to almost anyone.
Take a look at some of their close losses.
@NC State 74-78
@Georgia St. 60-62
@ETSU 68-72 in OT
Look at that sample. NC State is a top 25 ranked squad, Florida is having a down year in the SEC, but Gainesville is still a tough place to only lose by 8 on the road. Georgia State is a perennial NCAA tournament team. Wofford beating “like they stole something”, and ETSU is arguably the biggest, toughest team in the SOCON.
So just like my preview against the Citadel, I looked to my friend and colleague in SOCON coverage, John Hooper. How does Mercer play? “Mercer is a gritty, tough team that relies on guard play more than it has in the past, they play a tough matchup zone on defense and rely on Ross Cummings as their primary scorer.”
Translation, Ross Cummings needs to be stopped offensively and the Spartans need to match the intensity of a Bob Hoffman lead team. He always has his team ready to play and he’d love nothing more than to come into the Gate City and beat up on the defending champions. My guess is, the Spartans have righted the ship and will continue their winning ways.
UNCG 80 Mercer 71
Follow me on Twitter, @MarkZanetto7
Point Forward Podcast w, Mark Zanetto can be heard on ITUNES, SoundCloud and anywhere you get your podcasts activity including www.sportscarolinamonthly.com
John Hooper can be seen on twitter @SoconJohn22 check him out, not many people do it better.
UNCG is riding a 3-game winning streak, and leads their state of North Carolina with 17 wins with a chance to push it to 19 this weekend.
Looking down the road: UNCG is starting this 4-game home stand, it ends with VMI on Jan 31st and Samford Feb 7th. Come out and support your SPARTANS! #LetsgoG
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