By Rob Daniels
UNCGSpartans.com staff writer
The first overall game, the first road game and the first close game have all been disappointing for the UNCG Spartans, whose next brush with novelty won’t be easy, either. At 0-5 on the year, the Spartans begin Southern Conference play on Thursday with a trip to defending champion Wofford.
The schedule-maker must be heartless. Then again, the schedule-maker – at least one element of the construction process – is a computer. So the Spartans have no choice but to keep working at getting their defense to match their offense.
“It’s going to be tough opening against Wofford, but it’s good,” sophomore guard Korey Van Dussen said after Monday’s 82-70 loss to N.C. A&T. “They knocked us out of the conference tournament last year and we’ll give them our best shot. A lot of us are really down and sick and tired of losing. We hate that feeling. It’s a sick-to-the-stomach feeling.”
UNCG, which has allowed 81 or more points to each of its first five opponents, will concentrate on positioning and rotations before it worries about generating turnovers in bunches. On Monday, the Aggies were often too quick for the Spartans, whose attempts to help, recover and take charges were generally an instant too late.
“That’s their game plan: spread us out and try to create,” Spartan coach Mike Dement said. “We knew that coming in. We just didn’t do a good job of containing, and it hurt, as you could see.
“We can’t continue to give teams 80 points when they’re averaging 70. At times, we did defend better and we came up with steals, but …”
The difficulty in recovering defensively has manifested itself on the foul line. UNCG’s past three opponents have attempted 113 free throws.
“Defensively, there’s a long list of things we can work on,” Van Dussen said. “It starts with talking, with help defense, with keeping people in front of us. And the list goes on and on. We’ve got to buy into it.”
The defensive struggles have masked the Spartans’ improvement on the other end. After shooting 28.7 percent from the 3-point line a year ago, they’re up to 35.3 percent so far in 2010-11. That’s not an outstanding figure, but it is slightly better than the national average. And that’s at least a start.
Kyle Randall, 13-for-64 from downtown a year ago, was an effective perimeter target against the Aggies in a 23-point night that suggested good things for the future.
“I just tried to be aggressive,” Randall said. “My teammates spread the floor for me a couple of times, and that allowed me to get to the basket. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.”
Randall and center Aloysius Henry hope to become a compelling tandem. Henry had another solid evening on Monday, delivering 12 points and 15 rebounds. He accounted for nearly half of his team’s defensive boards by himself.
“Henry,” A&T coach Jerry Eaves said, “is going to be a monster.”
Freshman guard Trevis Simpson has often created good shots when possessions have appeared stagnant. Now he just has to finish effectively.
Although there are still difficult non-conference games on the schedule, the SoCon will be the Spartans’ emphasis, and the schedule’s oddities do require a confidence-building start. (Seven of the final 10 regular-season league games are on the road.) The Terriers will present the first test, and they return the core of a team that went 15-3 in the league and 26-9 overall last year.
“We have to understand that the South division is loaded up,” Dement said. “We’ve talked about how league play is the most important. Hopefully, we can play well enough that we can be in it and then learn how to win.”
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