Four years ago, UNCG recorded an 11-22 season record. They were the basement dwellers of the SoCon, and it looked to remain that way for the foreseeable future.
That all seems like a bad dream now, as UNCG (20-3, 9-1 in SoCon) continued its historic start last Thursday, crushing the VMI Keydets (7-15, 1-9 in SoCon) 93-66 at the Coliseum to secure their third consecutive 20-win season. Demetrius Troy poured in a career-high 20 points, Isaiah Miller added another 20 and Francis Alonso scored 17 on 7-12 shooting.
Before 2016, UNCG had garnered just three 20-win seasons since its move to Division I in 1992. Head coach Wes Miller acknowledged the gravity of the milestone.
“We’ll talk about accomplishments after the year, but we’re proud of that… That’s really cool stuff. It says a lot about what we’ve been able to do the last couple years. We just hope things can continue to get better and continue to grow.”
With a young core waiting to take the reins, continued growth is expected.
Presently, UNCG, now winners of six straight, continues to dominate the SoCon. The Spartans are alone in second place in the conference standings, sitting one game behind Wofford, which handed the Spartans their lone conference loss in January. UNCG will travel to Spartanburg to face the Terriers next Saturday.
On Thursday, VMI came out firing, draining eight three-pointers in the first half. However, after the Keydets tied the game at 22, UNCG broke things open with a 15-0 run midway through the half.
Troy proved to be the ignition, scoring seven in a row then whipping a mid-air, overhead pass to Kyrin Galloway for the and-one slam. A Kaleb Hunter three and another Troy jumper pushed the lead to 15. UNCG would not look back from there, despite a miraculous half-court buzzer beater by VMI’s Bubba Parham, which ended up being the high point of the Keydets’ night.
Parham, the reigning SoCon Freshman of the Year, was held to 12 points on 4-11 shooting, nine points below his season average.
The Spartans picked up where they left off after halftime, exploding into a 21-4 run that ballooned their lead to 27. Troy added seven more points after the break. It was just what the senior point guard needed to get out of his recent shooting slump.
“I had been struggling shooting the three a lot recently, and that kind of sucks because that’s what I’ve always done,” Troy said after the game. “But I’ve been able to affect the game in other areas, and I was able to step up when [the team] needed it. When I wasn’t hitting, others were able to step up in my absence. So, I think that’s just another testament to how good our team really is, and how good of a coach we have.”
With the outcome decided, UNCG switched to cruise control. Isaiah Miller added two more thunderous dunks to his ever-growing highlight reel—including a rim-rattling tomahawk that earned him number two on Thursday’s SportsCenter’s Top Ten Plays.
Still, the sophomore’s displays of athleticism didn’t even prove to be the highlight of the night. That came with just 28 seconds left, after fan favorite Ryan Tankelewicz drove into the lane and flipped the ball off the glass and onto the front of the iron. It then stayed in place for a tense half-second before dropping into the cup. The crowd exploded for its biggest cheer of the evening.
For Tankelewicz, it was a healthy dose of some long overdue recognition.
“The crazy thing is, Ryan’s nasty,” Troy said. “He’s really good… He’s on our scout teams everyday, killing us in practice to get us ready to play… I love Ryan to death, and it’s really cool to see him have this special moment, especially for the fans to react the way they did.”
UNCG returns to the Coliseum at 7 p.m. tomorrow to play Samford.