There were lines that formed as early as 4:15 p.m. for the shuttle that took students to the Greensboro Coliseum. A rousing Veteran’s Day display took place prior to the game. Both student sections for the Blue and Gold were over capacity. Spiro the Spartan came rappelling down from the rafters with the American flag. And of course, there was Spartan Basketball.
It’s been eight months since the UNCG Men’s Basketball Team last game, a heartbreaking 72-67 loss to the University of Ohio in the CIT tournament. But that was last season. This is now. With four returning members from last year’s starting five, the Spartans look to pick up where they left off against the seventh ranked Virginia Cavaliers in their home opener.
From the opening tip, the Cavs sprinted out to a 15-4 lead early in the first half. Coming out of a timeout, the Spartans went on an 8-0 run to close the gap to 15-12, with threes from big men Jordy Kuiper and RJ White.
The Cavs used their big man Jack Salt to push the lead to 25-17 by the 3rd media timeout, which to the crowd’s delight, US Army Serviceman and Olympic Silver Medalist Paul Chelimo comes out in his return to Greensboro since graduating from UNCG in 2014.
Back from the intermission, turnovers proved costly for the Spartans, as fast guard play from freshman Kyle Guy and returning senior London Parenthes propelled the ACC regular season champions to a 17-0 run to close out the half. At halftime, the Spartans trailed the Cavaliers 42-17.
Coming into the second half, the Spartans came onto the hardwood with an increased intensity and sense of urgency that was devoid from the team in the last 9 minutes of the half. UNCG went with a 3/4 court press that seemed to slow down Virginia. They also put an emphasis on slashing the lanes and dribble drive penetration, spearheaded by junior forward Marvin Smith and freshman guard Malik Massey. However impressive their run was to start off the half, Virginia answered back with a run of it’s own, at one point leading the Spartans 74-47. Their experience and personnel were too much for UNCG, as the Cavaliers beat the Spartans 76-51.
Some takeaways from the game are that Virginia’s defense still is at the top of the class nationally and that even in defeat, UNCG’s basketball team has a lot to look forward to in their future. The Hoo’s stingy defense is at the bedrock of the program, and it showed in the season opener, with the visitors scoring 21 points off of 13 Spartan turnovers. What was more telling was how the ACC side went about their 22-0 half closing run. This wasn’t a quick blink of an eye run that’ll have one look at the scoreboard and realize that they’re down 20 points. Rather, this was a more methodical building of a lead that took eleven minutes before it felt like the Cavaliers were squarely ahead.
This learning experience isn’t without its bright spots however, as Malik Massey looked very comfortable on the court in his first collegiate contest. Which is great for those in Greensboro, as his dribble penetration and high motor should fill the void that Diante Baldwin will leave once he graduates. Francis Alonso showed why he was the leading scorer for last season, pacing the Blue and Gold with a team high 14 points, with his progression in his second season has him primed to take giant steps within this campaign. Jordy Kuiper provides energy to the squad while Marvin Smith is at this moment their best defender and can spread the floor with Alonso.
Next for the Spartans, they will play in the High Point University Classic this weekend. First playing High Point Friday night, North Dakota State Saturday night, and Navy to close out the tournament Sunday afternoon.