MT PLEASANT, S.C. – UNCG sophomore Hakan Ilhan continued his furious late-season surge, scoring with 9:32 to play to break a scoreless tie and lifting the top-seeded Spartans over third-seeded Furman, 1-0, for the title at the Southern Conference Men's Soccer Championship on Sunday afternoon.
With the win, UNCG (12-5-4) earns the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Championship. The field of 48 will be announced on Monday at 4:30 p.m. on ESPNU. UNCG won its fifth SoCon tournament title since joining the league in 1997. UNCG is now 5-4 all-time in SoCon tournament title matches, with six of those appearances coming against Furman.
Ilhan, the Southern Conference's leading scorer, now has 31 points on the season, including 19 in the last eight matches on eight goals and three assists. He scored all four of UNCG's goals in the conference tournament – both goals in UNCG's quarterfinal-round win over Georgia Southern, including an overtime goal to win that match; the only goal of the match in overtime to beat Appalachian State in the semifinals; and Sunday's game-winner against Furman.
Ilhan's 31 points are the most by a Spartan in a season since Randi Patterson's 44 points in 2005.
The win extended UNCG's unbeaten streak to 11 consecutive games, as the Spartans are 8-0-3 during that span. The Spartans will make their 19th NCAA Championship appearance and 10th in the school's Division I era. UNCG advanced to the round of 16 each of its last four appearances, in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008.
"Our players have done it all," said UNCG interim head coach Justin Maullin, who became the first rookie head coach to guide his team to a title in the 22-year history of the event. "Defending wins championships, but you have to have special players to get goals and Hakan (Ilhan) showed it during the final three games.
"Our goal all along has been to win the regular-season and tournament titles. We were picked sixth in the preseason, so we used that as a motivation throughout the year."
Ilhan gathered the ball outside the top of the 18-yard box, composed himself and lofted a shot over the outstretched arms of the retreating Alec Kann. The tally at the 80:28 mark was one of just two shots on goal for UNCG during the match, and it marked Ilhan's 12th tally of the season.
"I'm very proud of our team," said UNCG senior Matt Strine, the tournament's most outstanding player. "We had 15 or 18 new players this season, and we have come a long way. The sky is the limit, and I feel that we can compete against anyone."
Furman's Caleb Suri pressed goalkeeper Peyton Ford in the 80th minute with a bouncing volley from the right side, but the Spartans' keeper was up to the challenge.
Ford notched two saves while keeping his sixth clean sheet of the season. Kann recorded one save for Furman.
Furman closed out its campaign at 10-7-4.
Steven Sassano, Appalachian State
Lee Williams, Appalachian State
Alex Caskey, Davidson
Greg Macnamara, Davidson
Daniel Hojaij, Furman
Walker Jernigan, Furman
Nicky MacKain, Furman
Mahdi Ali, UNCG
Hakan Ilhan, UNCG
Aaron Reifschneider, UNCG
Matt Strine, UNCG
MOP: Matt Strine, UNCG
Furman.............. 0 0 - 0
UNCG................ 0 1 - 1
SCORING SUMMARY: UNCG Ilhan (unassisted), 80:28. Shots: Furman 5, UNCG 11. Saves: Furman 1 (Kann 1), UNCG 2 (Ford 2). Corner kicks: Furman 1, UNCG 5. Fouls: Furman 9, UNCG 7.
- UNCG -