UNCG upsets N.C. State 81-76
RALEIGH — For the first 10 minutes, UNCG coach Wes Miller was watching a replay of the Spartans’ last practice.
N.C. State’s shots were falling, UNCG couldn’t solve the Wolfpack’s full court press and the Spartans could do no right defensively.
“Let’s just say they didn’t handle pressure well yesterday,” Miller said. “I wasn’t happy at all; I challenged them in lots of ways we probably can’t talk about here…”
For the next 30 minutes, though, the Spartans responded exactly how they did in that Friday afternoon practice, rebounding from an early deficit and taking a double-digit lead before holding on for an 81-76 victory over N.C. State on Saturday at PNC Arena.
The victory was UNCG’s first over State in 11 tries, and moved the Spartans to 3-58 all-time against ACC programs.
“It’s a good win for our program, it’s a good win for our players,” Miller said. “There’s no mistake about it, when you coach in this state, your players feel it, your school feels it, you feel it as a a coach sometimes. Rightfully so, you’re overshadowed by the ACC. So, to come in and win a game against an ACC opponent, it’s a big deal to our program.”
Early on, it appeared UNCG’s futility against State would continue, with the Wolfpack making 11 of its first 14 field goal attempts en route to a 31-17 lead before the Spartans switched to 2-3 zone defense.
“We were locked in and engaged, active hands and active feet,” senior forward Jordy Kuiper said. “The key for us was to identity shooters on the perimeter and we were able to do that, contest some shots and force them to take tough ones. That really got us going.”
Despite the deficit, the Spartans weren’t in a panic after experiencing similar circumstances less than 24 hours earlier.
“We had some less than happy moments in practice yesterday preparing for it, but I think sometimes that adversity in practice prepares you for games,” Miller said. “Some adverse moments trying to handle pressure in practice yesterday really helped us today.”
He credited senior Marvin Smith, who finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, with holding the Spartans together.
“When things were difficult there to start the game, we were kind of a shell of ourselves there in the first 10 minutes of the game,” Miller said. “He was the guy keeping the troops together and keeping every positive, even when Coach Miller was a little negative, because I was pretty negative there to start the game.”
Slowly, things began to turn as Garrett Collins knocked down two 3-pointers off the bench and the Wolfpack missed six of seven shots. Suddenly, the Spartans were within 40-38 at the half despite allowing the Wolfpack to shoot 62 percent from the field.
“I think this is a group that has been in quite a few battles,” Miller said. “They understand if they’ll just stay together and stay the course, and keep trying to do the things hat they practice every day, they’re going to be in games because they’re a good enough team.”
With 3-pointers form Kuiper and Smith to open the second half, the Spartans took a lead they would never surrender, going up by as many as 14 before the Wolfpack made a late run.
UNCG’s 57 percent from the field in the second half with six 3-pointers, pops off the box score, but Smith pointed to the other end of the floor.
“I felt our energy and our togetherness out there on that court, and it was aall on the defensive end,” he said. “Our defense created our offense for us and that’s why we were able to get those good shots and those opportunities…”
Things got shaky down the stretch with turnovers and missed free throws helping State draw within 79-76 with 11 seconds remaining, but Francis Alonso’s steal and two free throws with a second remaining sealed it, as he finished with a team-high 17 points.
It was nothing the Spartans hadn’t seen in Friday’s practice, after all.
“Just staying together and obviously it translating to the game,” Miller said. “That togetherness and staying locked in and focused, and being committed to the task at hand as a team carried over from practice.”