The Greensboro Coliseum was packed, and the G-Force was rocking on Thursday night, as UNCG defeated Western Carolina 79-76 in an overtime thriller. Both teams were able to overcome some early shooting woes and converted time and time again in the clutch, but it was UNCG and Francis Alonso who had the last laugh, sinking a three with five seconds left in overtime to secure the victory.
Despite losing 2018 SoCon Defensive Player of the Year James Dickey to a foot injury early in the half, UNCG set the tone with their effort and offensive rebounding, taking a 12-2 lead in the first nine minutes of the game. Dickey would return to the game around this time and garnered 12 points and six rebounds. The junior forward helped UNCG ward off a late WCU run and the Spartans took a 30-22 lead into the locker room.
“[It was] one of [Dickey’s] better halves of the year,” UNCG head coach Wes Miller said after the game.
Thanks to some halftime adjustments as well as foul trouble involving Dickey, WCU came out firing after the break. An early 9-0 Catamount run tied the game at 41-41 prior to a media timeout. UNCG responded with a 5-0 spurt over 11 seconds, courtesy of Isaiah Miller. Miller would catch a lob from Demetrius Troy then immediately steal the ball on the other end and convert an and-one layup.
After about ten more minutes of back and forth basketball, things quickly began to get shaky for the Spartans. Western Carolina’s Matt Halvorsen converted a four-point-play with 3:26 left to give WCU a 59-58 lead. Dickey fouled out on the same play. Another WCU three pushed the lead to 62-58.
Facing the prospect of losing a third game in a row and falling to third in the SoCon standings, Francis Alonso stepped up in the clutch, scoring seven of UNCG’s last nine points in regulation. None of his shots were colder than the pair of free throws he made with five seconds left to seemingly seal the 67-64 win for the Spartans.
Halvorsen and the Catamounts, however, were not done. The Western Carolina guard put on his best Steph Curry impression, banking in a half-court heave at the buzzer that left the Coliseum in stunned silence, sending the game into overtime.
UNCG got the ball rolling first in the extra period, taking an early 72-67 lead following an Alonso three. Western Carolina’s Carlos Dotson responded with two quick layups to shrink the lead to one.
UNCG big man Eric Hamilton then followed with arguably the biggest defensive play of the game by drawing a charge on Thomas for the WCU guard’s fifth and final foul. Thomas had been the Catamounts’ leading scorer to that point. Isaiah Miller converted two free throws to increase the Spartans’ lead to 76-73 with under a minute to go.
With 21 seconds left, Holverson bailed the Catamounts out again, this time with a three from the top of the key to knot it up at 76, forcing a Wes Miller timeout. Holverson scored all of his 15 points in the second half and overtime after shooting 0-7 in the opening 20 minutes.
The score now tied, the stage was set for a miracle at the Coliseum. The clock started ticking as Isaiah Miller caught the inbound pass and brought the ball up the court. The crowd rose to its feet, and UNCG called its most effective play: an offball screen for an Alonso three. UNCG ran it perfectly. Alonso got free on the wing, received the pass and swished the three with 5.0 seconds left. WCU could not mount another response and the final horn sounded.
UNCG wins, 79-76.
After the chaotic game, Wes Miller had a moment to reflect on Francis Alonso and all of the big shots he has made throughout his career as a Spartan.
“He has never been afraid of anyone, whether we are in Rupp Arena in front of 20,000, in the SoCon tournament or in big games in conference play. He is never afraid of the moment.”
UNCG’s final home game of the season is on Sunday, when they will play conference rival East Tennessee State.