Spartanburg Sports Report

Top-Seeded Spartans Hold off Terriers

By Scott Keeler/For The Spartanburg Sports Report

ASHEVILLE, N.C. – In a battle of arguably the two best backcourts in the Southern Conference, UNCG’s All-SoCon second team duo outlasted Wofford’s All-SoCon first team duo Sunday. Diante Baldwin scored 22 points and Francis Alonso had 17 to lead the top-seeded Spartans to a 77-73 win over the fifth-seeded Terriers in the semifinals of the SoCon Tournament.

While they are SoCon champions and the No. 1 seed for the first time in school history, the Spartans feel they are still trying to earn respect. Beating a program with Wofford’s tradition is another step.

“We feel very disrespected in a lot of aspects, but we don’t really deserve respect in that this is our first time here,” Baldwin said. “We just keep telling ourselves that we’ve got to keep pushing.”

For the first time since 2005, UNCG (25-8) will play in the SoCon finals Monday night at 7 p.m.

Even though Wofford’s sharp-shooting backcourt tandem of Eric Garcia and Fletcher Magee were held to 10 points combined in the first half, it was the Terriers who were in control at the break leading 39-35.

That Wofford lead stretched to eight on a pair of Cam Jackson buckets 38 seconds into the second half.

Less than three minutes later, that “in control” feeling was all gone. After hitting a 3-pointer to pull the Spartans within one, Baldwin made a fantastic leaping interception of a Garcia pass and raced in for a layup that gave UNCG a 48-47 lead. While there was still 16:44 left, it was a lead the Spartans never relinquished.

“I thought Diante’s steal really broke us out of a defensive slump up up to that point,” UNCG coach Wes Miller said. “I was really proud of my group in the second half. We challenged them at halftime to raise their level of energy defensively.”

The Spartans lead grew to as much as nine with 9:53 left. Wofford got the lead down to one on two separate occasions, the last coming with 1:54 left. Jackson then followed with a blocked shot that was corralled by Wofford’s Nathan Hoover. As the Terriers were trying to take the lead Jackson fouled out after being whistled for a moving screen.

UNCG scored the next five points to seal the win.

“Our guys fought and did everything I asked of them,” Wofford coach Mike Young said. “I thought we had a couple of great possessions that we just didn’t get the ball to go down.

“It was five plays and they probably made three of them and we made two. If we make three or four we get out of here (with a win), but that didn’t happen.”

Magee finished with 22 points to lead the Terriers (16-17), while Jackson had 17 points and 4 blocks. Garcia capped off his illustrious career with eight points and 12 assists. The first Terrier ever with 1,200 points and 500 assists, the Aurora, Colorado native finished with 1,260 points and 537 assists in his career.

“He came a long way from home to carve out his niche and find his way as a college basketball player and student,” Young said. “He’s been everything. We should erect a bronze statue of him outside with the caption, ‘this is what a Wofford basketball player looks like.’ ”

No. 2 ETSU 81, No. 7 Samford 72

In Sunday’s other semifinal, T.J. Cromer scored 41 points to lead No. 2 ETSU back to the championship game for the second consecutive year with an 81-72 win over seventh-seeded Samford.

Cromer tied a tournament single-game record by hitting 9-of-12 3-pointers for the Buccaneers (26-7).

Christen Cunningham scored 30 points to lead the Bulldogs (19-15).