ASHEVILLE, N.C. – The UNCG men's basketball season saw its Southern Conference Tournament run come to an end Saturday night as the 10th-seeded Spartans dropped a hard-fought 68-61 decision to rival and second-seeded Elon at the U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville. The loss drops the Spartans to 9-22 on the season while the Phoenix improves to 21-10 and advance to the SoCon Tournament semifinals Sunday.
"This has been a really tough year and there is no other way to put it," head coach Wes Miller said. "We lost 13 games, including tonight, where it was within one or two possessions in the last two minutes of games. When you lose that many close ones, your record is not going to look how you want it to look and that is tough on our entire program. When I look back on the year, I will always know the guys kept fighting. We had our lumps along the way, but we never gave in and our performance here in Asheville is indicative of that fight."
Junior Trevis Simpson (Douglas, Ga./Coffee) was one of just two Spartans to score in double figures in the loss as he tallied 16 points in 28 minutes. Simpson connected on 4-of-9 from three-point land as he hit half of UNCG's three-pointers in the loss. Fifth-year senior forward Kelvin McNeil (Newport News, Va./Delaware) closed out his career with 10 points and six rebounds off the bench.
The Spartans connected on just 31 percent (22-of-71) from the field in the loss and 36.4 percent (8-of-22) from three-point land. The under-sized Spartans did manage to out-rebound one of the most physical teams in the conference by a 46-40 margin. Senior guard Derrell Armstrong (Mechanicsville, Md./Allegany CC) grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds while junior David Williams (Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast) ripped down 10 boards to pace the effort on the glass.
Elon connected on 42.9 percent (21-of-49) from the field and 47.1 percent (8-of-17) from three-point land in the victory. The Phoenix had four players score in double figures with Sebastian Koch leading the way with 15 points, including three three-pointers. Lucas Troutman posted a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds while Ryley Beaumont added 12 points and eight rebounds.
"Elon is a good basketball team," Miller said. "We have played three tough games against them, two of which have gone down to the wire. I think it is simple. We made some plays down the stretch, but they just made more of those plays to pull out the victory. I was really pleased by the looks we got and who those looks were for in the last five minutes, they didn't go down for us tonight."
The two teams went back-and-forth at a fast pace out of the gate with the Spartans taking a 19-17 lead as Simpson hit three straight three-pointers to give UNCG its first lead of the day. Elon responded with an 8-0 run as it started to heat up from the outside with consecutive threes from Josh Bonney and Tanner Samson to take a 25-19 lead.
The Phoenix took a 31-24 lead with 2:55 left in the half when Sebastian Koch hit a three-pointer. The Spartans held Elon off the board the final 2:55 as they posted a 5-0 run to close the half. Freshman Kayel Locke (Baltimore, Md./McDonogh) hit a pair of free throws before Armstrong a three-pointer on the fast break to make it a 31-29 deficit for the Spartans heading into the locker room.
The Spartans connected on 31.3 percent (10-of-32) from the field and 36.4 percent (4-of-11) from three-point land in the first half. Simpson led the attack with 11 points as he hit 3-of-6 from three-point land while freshman Jordan Potts (Columbus, Ohio/Northland) added five points. Armstrong grabbed a team-high six rebounds in the first half as UNCG held a 23-19 edge on the glass against the Phoenix.
Elon connected on just 36.7 percent (11-of-30) from the field but hit 50 percent (6-of-12) from three-point land in the opening frame. Koch led the Phoenix with eight points as eight different players found their way onto the score sheet in the first 20 minutes of play.
Elon came out of the break and scored the first eight points of the half to take a 39-29 lead. Troutman and Koch each converted three-point plays in the first three minutes of the second half to extend the lead to double figures. UNCG kept battling and cut the deficit in half at 55-50 as senior Korey Van Dussen (Zeeland, Mich./Zeeland East) scored off a drive and Simpson nailed a three-pointer.
Elon could not shake the scrappy Spartans as each time the Phoenix made a push, UNCG was there with an answer to keep it a close contest. Armstrong pulled the Spartans within four at 63-59 with 1:01 left as he scored off an offensive rebound but missed the ensuing free throw trying for the three-point play.
The Spartans fouled and Beaumont hit one of two free throws but Koch skied for the offensive rebound on the miss free throw forcing UNCG to foul again, essentially sealing the game with his two shots from the charity stripe. Elon ended the game hitting 7-of-8 in the final minute from the free throw line even though prior to that point the Phoenix had shot just 11-of-18 from the stripe.
- UNCG -