The University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s basketball team faced their crosstown opponents, the North Carolina A&T Aggies, on Tuesday, Nov 9. This game christened the Mike Jones era of coaching at UNCG, after his eleven-year stint with Radford. The Spartans are coming into the season after losing coach Wes Miller to the University of Cincinnati and star guard Isaiah Miller to the NBA.
There was a big crowd turnout to see the city’s two main colleges face off Tuesday evening, and the players were electric from start to finish. The Aggies struck first with a score from David Beaty. The game started slightly slow for the Spartans whose first eight points were scored by Cal State Bakersfield transfer De’monte Buckingham, who had the hot hand throughout the whole game. Tyler Maye from North Carolina A&T played well as he traded buckets with UNCG’s Jalen White to gain the lead back for the Aggies. By the first timeout the Spartans had a one-point advantage leading 13-12. Buckingham would score a big basket right out if the timeout leading to an and-one.
His hot start would continue as he tallied 14 of the Spartan’s 16 points at the time. After the Spartans hit a three pointer, Justin Whatley matched it from deep. Both teams wanted to play a fast-paced, up-and-down type of game. The two would go back and forth after Tyler Maye’s and-one, but he did not convert the free throw. On the next UNCG possession, a pump fake from Mohammed Abdulsalam freed up some space, and earned him a tough layup. Utilizing Tyler Maye’s hot shooting night would help give the Aggies a lead, but it would not last long after Khyre Thompson scored.
After a half of basketball, the Aggies had a 3-point lead. They shot a slightly better clip from the field at about 42% to UNCG’s 37%. The Spartans won the rebounding battle in the first half 21-15. Turnovers were the biggest problem for UNCG, as they had eight at the half. North Carolina A&T only had two turnovers by halftime.
The Aggies used their first half momentum to spark a hot start out of the break. They went on a quick seven-to-nothing run, which forced Coach Jones to call an early timeout. The turnovers continued to be costly for the Spartans throughout the run by NCAT. Junior guard JC Tharrington came off the bench and scored to stop the Aggies run. Transfer guard Dante Treacy scored his first basket to bring the Spartans within four points. With a chance to gain momentum the lob thrown from Tharrington to Kaleb Hunter was mishandled, giving the Aggies a Fastbreak opportunity. On the next possession, Hunter made up for it with a three-pointer. After a big rebound from big man Bass Leyte, the Spartans started to rally. Bas Leyte scored and cut the deficit to one, electrifying the home crowd.
With 6:51 left in the game, the Aggies held a three-point lead. Then, Abdulsalam brought the Aggie lead back down to one with a quick bucket. The game was being played like a chess match between Mike Jones and NC A&T’s head coach Will Jones, forcing each side to make adjustments. De’monte Buckingham continued his strong shooting night by making a three-pointer to put the Spartans up two. Following a miss, UNCG’s Abdulsalam grabbed a rebound, which led to another three for Buckingham.
After a couple of missed free throws, the senior forward Abdulsalam came up with another board, leading to a foul. He hit a free throw to give UNCG a five-point advantage. North Carolina A&T would not go out without a fight, their redshirt freshman Marcus Watson hit a shot from deep to cut the lead down to two points with 11.9 seconds left. Dante Tracey hit two free throws to push the lead back to four.
Kobe Langley committed a foul on his brother Kameron Langley, who is a graduate senior guard for the Aggies. The elder Langley missed the free throw, which led to another rebound for Mohammed Abdulsalam as time wound down. The Spartans won 57-53, Buckingham had the game-high in points with 28. Abdulsalam finished with 11 rebounds in the home opener.
The Spartans are 1-0 and have now won five straight games against their crosstown opponents. Following the game, when asked if he would like to keep the game scheduled for the season opener, Mike Jones simply replied “Nope,” jokingly, but with a serious tone he had the same reaction when asked if he even wanted to keep them on the schedule. Jones also praised guard Da’monte Buckingham, he stated that “Buck has really good IQ,” also adding that he started fast in team scrimmages, he slowed the game down versus NCAT. Jones’ biggest takeaway from the game was that the Spartans “have a long way to go, but nobody panicked against a motivated team.”