UNCG opened up the 2019-20 men’s basketball campaign last Tuesday with a dominant home win over N.C. A&T, then came up short against the Kansas Jayhawks in Allen Fieldhouse on Friday night.
The Spartans hosted their crosstown rivals in front of a packed arena. 8,131 fans showed up—a home opener record—with 2,907 of those being students. Though the matchup attracted its fair share of Aggie fans as well, it was clear from the opening tip that A&T was outgunned and outmatched. The Spartans never trailed and ultimately won 83-50.
Preseason SoCon Player of the Year, Isaiah Miller, got off to a slow start, scoring just one point in the first half on 0-4 shooting. Guard, Kaleb Hunter stepped up in his place, dropping 12 points in the first half. The sophomore finished with 17 points, which led all scorers.
The Spartans took a 42-20 lead into halftime. The Aggies scored seven of the first eight points of the second half, but Isaiah Miller settled in with 12 points in the second half, including a ferocious one-handed alley-oop that was number one on Wednesday’s SportsCenter Top Ten Plays. After the lead cracked 25, UNCG switched to cruise control and coasted to the 33 point win.
Freshman, Keyshaun Langley, whose twin brother Kobe is a reserve for the Spartans and whose older brother plays for the Aggies, impressed with seven points, including two threes, in his collegiate debut. Transfer, Michael Hueitt, Jr. also impressed with ten points on 50% shooting.
The Spartans had a quick turnaround, flying to Lawrence, K.S. on Thursday for their showdown with third-ranked Kansas. The Jayhawks were coming off a gritty loss against Duke on Tuesday and hadn’t lost a home opener since 1972. Meanwhile, UNCG was looking to prove itself on a national stage against a premier program after close losses to Virginia and Kentucky in previous years.
In the first minutes of Friday’s action against the Jayhawks, Kansas’ home-opener winning streak looked threatened. The Jayhawks had no answers for Isaiah Miller, who scored 17 of his 19 points in the first half, and Wes Miller’s aggressive, complex defensive schemes had Kansas looking confused. Midway through the first, sophomore and Kansas City-native, Angelo Allegri, nailed a three to make it 19-17 UNCG. Kansas responded with a Ochai Agbaji jumper—from there, the Jayhawks started to slowly figure out UNCG’s plan of attack, heading into the halftime locker room with a 36-32 lead.
The opening minutes of the second half are always crucial for the underdog in a matchup like this, and they didn’t go UNCG’s way. The Spartans were outscored 20-6 in the first eight minutes of the second half—despite shooting just 25% from behind the arc on 31 attempts, the Spartans continued to chuck up threes, and the bricks piled on. Isaiah Miller also found himself in foul trouble, picking up his third personal just a minute into the second and his fourth with 11:16 remaining. With the Spartans best player on the bench for most of the second half, Kansas’ offense opened up for the first time all night.
Though the Spartans managed to trim the lead down to ten late in the second half, it was too little, too late. For the third time in three years, UNCG came up just short against an early-season marquee opponent.
Kaleb Hunter continued to impress, scoring 17 and nabbing a career-high 12 rebounds against Kansas. After two games, it’s clear that this will be a perimeter-oriented team. The Spartans have shot 65 three-pointers in their two games but have made just 19 of them. Improved three-point shooting, as well as keeping Isaiah Miller on the court, will be key for UNCG if they wish to return to the NCAA Tournament this season.
The Spartans play next Monday vs. Averett College.