The Spartans closed out the most successful season in school Division One basketball history, with a loss to Syracuse University in the opening round of the National Invitational Tournament. The game was heavily contested, with the Spartans falling 90-77 at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. While the results might not have been what many were hoping for, the journey there was phenomenal. Wes Miller, now in his sixth year as head coach, lead the Spartans to their first Southern Conference regular season title under his tenure. This season also featured Miller’s first winning season, first regular season conference title, and second postseason trip since taking over as interim head coach of the team in 2011. To get there, the Spartans captured a school record 25 wins on the way to a 25-10 overall record. The trip to the NIT was their fifth overall postseason tournament appearance and second consecutive after last season’s trip to the College Basketball Invitational quarterfinals.
Highlights of this season included a narrow three point lost to NCAA tournament bound Wake Forest University, the hosting of #8 in the nation University of Virginia to start the season, and wins against in state rivals such as the University of North Carolina at Asheville, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, and Western Carolina University. Overall in conference play for the Spartans was strong as well, as they went 14-4 over the duration of conference play. If you disregard the three-game losing streak that occurred in the end of January through the beginning of February, the team went 14-1 against in conference foes. This Southern Conference Season was highlighted by a six game win streak to close out the regular season.
Overall, the season was a testament to the perseverance of the team. The Spartans this year sent themselves on a path to success. This in great part due to a quartet of players; two seniors, one sophomore, and one freshman.
Starting center and senior, R.J. White, captured a spot on the SOCON All-Conference Third Team. This was due to a season stat line of 12.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.2 assists per game. White came on very strong in the final stretch of the season, with very strong performances both in the Southern Conference and National Invitational Tournaments. He had 21 points, 12 rebounds, and five assists in the first game of the SOCON Tournament against The Citadel. Other highlights include a line of 23 points, 6 rebounds, and three blocks in a loss to Eastern Tennessee State University in the SOCON tournament final, and a line of 16 points and three rebounds against Syracuse to close out the season in the NIT. He finishes his career here at UNCG as eighth all time on the scoring list with 1,460 points, and fourth for rebounds with 878 boards total. He will also go in the record books for the most games played as a Spartan with 140 appearances.
The duo of guards Diante Baldwin and Francis Alonso both got spots on the SOCON All-Conference Second Team. Baldwin averaged 13.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game in his senior season. Highlights of Baldwin’s season include a 25 point, eight assist, and five rebound line game against the Citadel in December in addition to a near triple-double in the NIT. In the final game of his illustrious career, he had 19 points, eight rebounds, and nine assists. The nine assists matched a career high of his. He will go down as the fourteenth all time on the scoring list with 1,226 points. He will also be third in assists with 437 and fourth all time in steals with 137. His contributions will surely be missed moving forward. Alonso too earned his keep on Second All-Conference team with 10 games with over 20 points. Overall, he had twenty-five games with double digit points. His season line of 14.9 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 2 assists per game was vital to the team this season.
The final player from the Spartans who was recognized for the season, was freshman forward James Dickey. He received a spot on the SOCON All-Freshman conference team for his contributions to the team this season. For the season, he averaged 6.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 1 assist per game. He also had eight games with double digit scoring, the highlight being a 16 point, eight rebound night against Mercer in February. With two starters graduating, expect Dickey to contribute much more in the coming season.
Overall, this season for the Spartans was one for the record books. Wes Miller captured his first winning season as head coach, and the team was only five points away from their first birth in the NCAA tournament in over fifteen years (2001). Moving forward, the blue and gold will hope to capitalize on this momentum as they hope to continue to make waves in the Southern Conference. It goes without saying that this season would not be possible without all the players. While standouts such as James Dickey, R.J. White, Diante Baldwin, and Francis Alonso, led the way, everyone on the roster fought for these wins. With such a season like this, we expect great things moving forward for this team. A third consecutive postseason berth is not out of the question.