By Daniel Johnson, Staff Writer
The old time saying to describe many situations where an individual is close to their goals, but do not reach it can be used to described the UNCG Men’s Basketball team last week. The Spartans team saw two games where the phrases “close but no cigar” or maybe “almost only counts in horseshoes and handgrenades” could be used to describe their games. It is ironic that on Valentine’s Day weekend, the Spartans Men’s basketball team would lose two straight heartbreakers on Thursday and Saturday by a combined eight points. The games against Southern Conference rivals, Mercer and East Tennessee State University, featured the Blue and Gold losing a second half lead one night, and almost completing a second half run the other night.
Game 1: ETSU at. UNCG
On Thursday night, the Spartans hosted ETSU in an attempt to sweep the season series against the Buccaneers. Closing out the first half on a 18-7 run to take the lead, including four straight three pointers. Kayel Locke, who was honored prior to the game for being the 20th player to reach 1000 career point in school history, led the team at the half with nine points on only five shot attempts. Though holding a small lead, the momentum was almost entirely on the Spartans side. At the height of their run, the team had a twelve point lead with about eleven minutes left. After that point, the Bucs went on a 35-20 run to come back against the Spartans. Shooting only 33.3 percent field goal percentage and 12.5 three point percentage in the second half, both lower than the Spartans, the Buccaneers won the game from the free throw line. The Buccaneers guard, Jason Riley, scored 9 of his game high 21 points from the foul line in the second half. Overall, the Bucs outshot the Spartans from the free throw line by twelve points. With only a second on the clock, Spartan forward Nicholas Paulos, who already made two three pointers earlier, missed short in the corner trying to push the game into overtime. On a happier note amid the tragic season of what has been Men’s Basketball, Spartans volleyballer, Kelsey Sidney, accepted a marriage proposal at halftime of the game.
Game 2: UNCG at. Mercer
Late afternoon on Valentines Day, the Spartans tipped off against Mercer in an attempt to avenge their humiliating twenty point home loss. By halftime, the team was down by 15 points early in the second half, but they were making progress to close the first period. The Bears defense held the Spartans to only seven field goals converted in the first half. And, similar to East Tennessee State on Thursday, the Spartans went on a late run to cut the game to single digits with seven minutes left. With less than two minutes left in the game, Spartan center RJ White converted a conventional three point play to cut the score 53-50 in favor of the Bears. This would be last last points scored by the Spartans for the rest of the game. The Spartans would only get two more possessions the rest of the game, ending with a missed three point shot, and a turnover. RJ White’s nineteen points led both teams and made three of the four Spartans free throws.
After last week, the Spartans men fall into a 4-10 SoCon record (8-19 overall), placing them only ahead of Furman in the standings. With only three weeks left in the season, the Spartans will be hosting three of their final four matches against different SoCon teams. This Thursday, the team will travel to South Carolina to play the top seeded Wofford, and close out the weekend with an afternoon match against Furman on Sunday at 1p.m.