GREENSBORO, N.C. - Despite three players scoring in double figures, the UNCG men's basketball team suffered a hard-fought 76-73 loss Friday night to East Carolina at the Minges Coliseum. The Spartans held a 14-point lead in the second half, but East Carolina closed the game on a 36-19 run over the final 15:25 of the game.
"I was incredibly proud of how my guys came in and battled in a tough environment on the road against a Conference USA team," head coach Wes Miller said. "We really came together and fought, making plays on both the offensive and defensive end. I have been waiting to see the team that I know we are capable of being effort-wise, and really excited to see that team come together in a real game. That effort is something we can build on and it we play with that type of fight, we will have a good year."
Junior Trevis Simpson (Douglas, Ga./Coffee) led the Spartans with 19 points, 10 of which came in the final 2:53 of the contest. Simpson connected on 6-of-16 from the field, but hit 4-of-8 from three-point land, while playing 30 minutes despite foul trouble.
Senior guard Korey Van Dussen (Zeeland, Mich./Zeeland East) added 18 points, 16 of which came in the first half, as he finished the game shooting 6-of-7 from the field. Van Dussen hit all four of his three-pointers and both of his free throws. Freshman forward Kayel Locke (Owings Mill, Md./McDonogh) continued his strong start to his career as he added 14 points and six rebounds off the bench.
UNCG connected on 44.1 percent (26-of-59) from the field and 47.8 percent (11-of-23 ) from long range. The Spartans only attempted 12 free throws on the night hitting 83.3 percent (10-of-12), compared to 30 taken by the Pirates hitting 70 percent (21-of-30). East Carolina finished the night shooting 49.0 percent (24-of-49) from the field and 31.8 percent (7-of-22) from long range.
The Spartans jumped out to an early 10-2 lead just under four minutes into the game as four different players scored for UNCG. Simpson started the run with a three-pointer while classmate Drew Parker (Houston, Texas/LaPorte) capped the run with a three-pointer in transition for the eight-point lead. UNCG extended the lead to double figures at 15-4 when Locke scored in the post.
East Carolina responded to the UNCG early run with a spurt of its own as the Pirates turned in a 14-4 run to trim the lead to 19-18 and force the Spartans into a timeout. Miguel Paul hit a pair of three-pointers in the run, including one in transition which led to the UNCG timeout.
The Pirates took their first lead of the night at 27-26 but Van Dussen brought the Spartans back in front as he started to catch fire. He took over in the final 5:47 of the half scoring 11 straight points and 14 of the Spartans' final 16 points of the half to give UNCG a 39-31 lead heading into the locker room. Van Dussen hit 4-of-4 three-pointers in the half and 6-of-7 from the field total.
UNCG connected on 50 percent (16-of-32) from the field and hit 58.3 percent (7-of-12) from long range in the opening half. The Spartans handed out 10 assists in the first half while out-rebounding the Pirates by a 17-14 margin. Locke added eight first half points and four rebounds as he was 4-of-7 from the field.
East Carolina ended the half shooting 42.3 percent (11-of-26) from the field and 25 percent (3-of-12) from long range. Paul led the Pirates with 13 points, including two three-pointers in his first action of the season after missing two games due to a suspension.
The Spartans came out of the halftime break and extended the lead to 54-40 quickly taking their largest lead of the night. Locke was the catalyst coming out of the break as he scored six straight points while Parker hit another three-pointer in the opening minutes.
East Carolina responded with an 11-0 run to trim the Spartans' lead to 54-51. Maurice Kemp scored four straight points during the run while Akeem Richmond capped the spurt with a long three-pointer to make it a one possession game. Richmond continued to fire on all cylinders as he buried his fourth three-pointer in a four-minute stretch as the Pirates took a 64-62 lead. The Pirates extended the lead to 68-62 with 3:57 left in the game as Paul nailed a jumper from the wing.
The teams traded baskets in the final minutes until Simpson hit a deep three-pointer to narrow the gap to 73-69 with 39 seconds left. After a pair of free throws by ECU, Simpson came down and nailed another three-pointer while being fouled to convert a four-point play to make it a two-point game at 75-73.
The Pirates hit one of two free throws keeping it a one-possession game with 12 seconds left. The Spartans raced down the floor and Simpson put up a three-pointer that was just off the mark but senior Derrell Armstrong (Mechanicsville, Md./Allegany CC) grabbed the rebound. The Spartans tried to call a timeout but it wasn't given before Armstrong heaved a three-pointer at the buzzer that was just short.
East Carolina placed four players in double figures in the victory led by Paul's 24 points. Richmond added 16 points off the bench as he hit 4-of-8 three-pointers while Maurice Kemp chipped in 16 points.
The Spartans return home to the Greensboro Coliseum Monday night as they host Atlantic Coast Conference member Virginia Tech. Game time is set for 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN3.com.
UNCG/ WFMY News 2 Sports