Today UNCG scooped an 84-49 win from the Furman Paladins with a record setting 15 made three pointers in the game. This win puts UNCG in a 3 way tie in the SoCon at 5-11, with Furman holding the bottom spot at 4-12. This 35 point win is UNCG’s largest ever SoCon victory and, hopefully, puts the Spartans in the right frame of mind to finish out the season, with games at home on both Thursday and Saturday.
While I am not usually a fan of teams that live by the three because unfailingly you must also die by the three, the energy on the court today has not been present in the last few home losses. The team I watched today shared the ball and worked to be aware of each other on the court. Big Man RJ White looked like he was gunning for the 1 spot hitting 4 three point shots early in the first half. The crowd thought one was fun. When he hit two it was great and three seems like he was on a roll, but when White sunk that fourth three the crowd erupted and he gave us a smile and a dance back down the court. While we expect Nick Paulos to hit 5-6 threes, other Spartans contributing to the effort beyond the arc included Marvin Smith (2), Diante Baldwin (1), Asad Lamot (1- this was the most unselfish play of the night), Clay Byrd (1- before he twisted his ankle and was out of the game), and perhaps the most surprising was first year player Garrett Collins (1 as well as adding 2 points inside the line during his 7 minutes on the court).
In most stats, UNCG led the way. 51% of their field goals to Furman’s 37%. The night belonged to the three pointer with UNCG hitting 60% of their attempts to the Paladins 15%. From the free throw line Furman edged UNCG 60 to the Spartan’s 58%. UNCG went 7-12 from the line. Here Baldwin and White need some remediation both going 0-2. In close games these points really matter! UNCG set the pace with 12 fast break points over none for Furman and Spartans added 28 from the bench (18 of those belonging to White).
G keep up the momentum into Thursday!
Remembering Dean Smith
Growing up, Carolina Basketball was one of the only reasons I was allowed to miss church. We went anytime the church doors were open, but if there was a game Mom would make an exception and we would stay home to cheer on the Tar Heels. As a preschooler, I have vivid memories of taunting our Preacher, who had the misfortune of getting his divinity degree from Wake Forest, on the way to preaching on Sunday mornings or church supper on Wednesday nights. I would stop in my tracks, I am sure goaded on by my mother, and call- “Go Tar Heels” and he answered “Go Demon Deacons” while the parishioners looked on with indulgent amusement. I was a Tar Heel. The Tar Heels were my team.
My mom loves Carolina basketball. Through her, my sisters and I came to love the game as well. As we watched Dean Smith lead the Heels on the court, we got lessons like, “look how the scorer acknowledges the passer” and “see how Coach Smith would rather get a technical than not start a senior on senior night.” From the basketball court and through the T.V., Coach Smith coached me as well. While never a player, I learned to be a smart, engaged fan, to appreciate a well-played game, and to see how the lessons learned through basketball could be applied to my life, too. My good friend Derrick, a State fan, jokes that people in the South love Jesus, the Pope, and Dean Smith- though not necessarily in that order!
Like many others who are honoring Dean Smith, I can ply you with facts and statistics; my head is stuffed with them. He learned the game at Kansas from Phog Allan who learned from Dr. Naismith himself, joined Frank McGuire as an assistant at UNC in 1958, took the helm as head coach in 1961 amid point-shaving rumors with the missive only to run a clean program, was hung in effigy after a 1965 loss to Wake Forest, used the four corners strategy so well that in 1985 the NCAA created the shot clock, retired in 1997 with 2 national titles, 11 Final Four appearances, 879 wins and a 77.6% winning record. All of these accomplishments are important, they add up to what his work was, as a coach, but they do not begin to cover his importance to UNC, North Carolina, and basketball.
As a basketball fan, it wasn’t just supporting a winning team that made me a Tar Heel. It was the lessons that I learned from Coach Smith, through basketball, that were the most important.
- Coach Smith is credited with inventing the tired signal a player can give to let the team know he needs a break. Basketball is a team sport. It is played best when players communicate with the coaching staff and each other. Communication is key to winning games.
- He also taught his scorers to point back to the passer that set up the play for them. The scorer gets credit for the basket, but they did not do it themselves. Good players spread the credit around.
- Coach Smith liked fast breaks, half court offense, and aggressive defense. He trained his teams to listen to the point guard who called the plays on the court. He was the coach, but there were times that you looked to those around you for leadership. When you know who to look to for instructions, you can do your job the way it needs to be done.
- On Senior Night, seniors, whether they are regular starters or not, start the game. If there are six seniors, Coach Smith accepted the technical foul to start them all. All team members are valuable and it is the coach’s job to recognize that.
- Though not the inventor of four corners, Dean Smith taught his teams to execute the strategy so well that the NCAA had to invent the shot clock to counter it. I agree that basketball is more fun to watch with a shot clock, but if you are going to do something do it so well that they have to create rules to evolve the game.
As I got older, I realized that Dean Smith was special off the court as well. His memory is legendary. Those who knew him said he could recall details of games played years ago and would remember to ask about your family members by name. He was also quietly and solidly a progressive moral compass that I could set my own sails by. He was an unapologetic political activist, cultivated by his father who coached the first racially integrated basketball team in Kansas in 1934, but always quiet and never shouting it. When he arrived in Chapel Hill he joined Binkley Baptist Church because it included everyone. As an assistant coach, he, along with an African American theology student, went to The Pines, a restaurant on Franklin Street, and stood together to be seated. This was real work in the still segregated south of the late 1950s and by the time the sit in movement came to Chapel Hill places like The Pines were already integrated. In 1966, he recruited Charlie Scott to play for UNC and with that action integrated the ACC. He was a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War in the 1960s and recorded anti- nuclear weapons radio spots in the 1980s. In 1998, he appeared at the clemency hearing of a death row inmate and told then Gov. Hunt, “The death penalty makes all of us murders.” In retirement, he took stands against the Iraq war and for gay rights. Dean Smith, along with fellow North Carolinian Andy Griffith, were my models for how to think about issues that we face in our daily lives and how to navigate living with integrity and doing what is right with the power that you have.
I’m always happy to rehash Tar Heel basketball details, like how free throws and time outs were factors in both the 1982 and 1993 National Titles, but what I will remember about Dean Smith has much more to do with the lessons he coached me through as a spectator and Tar Heel Fan.
While I haven’t had time to post, this has been a great week of college ball.
Louisville came to the Dean Dome and the Heart Attack Heels topped the Cards by one point (72-71) with Marcus Paige’s shot in the last seconds.
On top of that, for the last two Duke games, I had the privilege of seeing red while visiting diddukewin.com. Their first loss was at the hands of the unranked Wolfpack at the PNC Arena. It was at PNC, in March, when the Mercer Bears handed Duke their last loss. I was jumping and yelling as NC State pulled off that victory!
Last night, the Miami Hurricanes blew into Cameron and upset the Devils at home. This is Duke’s first loss at home since 2012 and Miami’s third win over ranked opponents this season!
Tonight, is the Battle for the Wes Miller Bobblehead- every time UNC meets NCSU the outcome of the game decides if our bobblehead will reside at the Colonna or the Newkirk house. Wes has come home with me for the last two Tar Heel victories and D feels with the Duke win the Pack is poised for greatness tonight. The Red-Blue game is at the same time that UNCG meets VMI at home, so it is double basketball for us tonight!
Go Heels! Go Spartans!
There have been three games since I have posted so let me catch you up:
1- The New Year’s Eve afternoon game against Mars Hill College was a blow out with the Spartans defeating the Lions 92-48. This game was played in Fleming gym and basketball is a great way to spend a holiday afternoon! Nick Paulos hit a long three at the halftime buzzer to get the crowd to their feet. This game was also where first year player, #1 Marvin Smith, got some significant playing time– 21 minutes. I’m excited to watch him mature into a great ball player.
2- On January 3, Mercer, a newcomer to the SoCon, traveled to Greensboro. They are a tough, team that plays well together, a formidable opponent for anyone. If you will remember, Duke learned that the hard way when the Bears knocked the Blue Devils out of the tournament. In honor of that moment and to congratulate the Bears for their ESPY I did what I do best- glitter up a poster
UNCG fell 55-76 after trailing for 40 minutes only tying the score once. It was hard, but the Spartans had a hard time connecting from beyond the arc (28%) and their free throw percentage was a paltry 45% (5-11).
3- Tonight, at the game by myself, the Spartans took the Bulldogs to overtime before losing by two 83-85. UNCG got off to a strong 5-0 start and the lead was bantered back and forth. There was a lot of sweat left on the court tonight! The Citadel beat us on the free throw line 85% to our 71%. They only put three of our player on the charity stripe (Locke going 10 times), but those points could have made the difference!
And just for fun:
Santa, through his NYC-based elves, left us tickets to the UAB-UNC game, so on this beautiful, warm December afternoon we caravanned to the Dean Dome for a late afternoon game.
Last year UAB surprised UNC in Alabama. This year the Blazers traveled to Chapel Hill and lost 89-58. Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson pulled the Heels away with their three point shots. Paige had been off his shot for the past few games but today connected for 2-6 from beyond the arc. Justin Jackson hit 2-3 of is three pointers. Kennedy Meets was on his game tonight cleaning up under the basket, hitting mid-range jumpers, doing his part from the line. Though, the free throw stars for the night go to Isaiah Hicks (5-6) and Nate Britt (4-4). Those FT percentages win games, especially as conference play draws closer.
Tonight is the first night I paid much attention to the new point guard Joel Berry. The point guard position is a hard one to learn. He is beginning to get his feet under him and blossom (short bursts) in the role. Marcus Paige is shining bright right now, but it is good to see Berry learning how to be a Tar Heel PG.
On another note, while I was hopeful that neither Louisville nor Kentucky would win….Kentucky did.
It seems that upsets were in the air in college basketball tonight.
Stanford upset #9 Texas in OT. After loosing to BYU last week, Stanford was looking for redemption and it happened to be wearing orange. With a jump shot from the free throw line in the final seconds, Chasson Randle contributed 22 points and teammate Anthony Brown added 25 more. Texas outshot Stanford 52% to 38% in second half, but Stanford stayed in the game with offensive rebounds and 9 second chance points to the Longhorns 0. This is the first top ten win for Stanford since 2008.
In a shocking (to me at least, I’ve not had my eye on UNLV), the Running Rebels dethrone #3 Arizona from the realm of the unbeatens. I would describe UNLV as inconsistent at best. They have talent, but have had some eye catching losses. It seemed to come together for them tonight as Arizona generally fell apart. The Wildcats struggled all around with some of their starters in foul trouble.
Another OT surprise was #11 Wichita States 1 point win against Hawaii. I watched the beginning of this game and had I known there would be 22 lead changes, 5 in OT alone, I’d have made more of an effort to stay awake. I thought the Shockers had this one in the bag. The final OT play, which looked really similar to their only loss to Utah last year, let them slip by Hawaii to meet George Washington in the final.
In Women’s news, congratulations to South Carolina for topping the AP poll for the fifth straight week. The Gamecocks are ahead of traditional powerhouses UConn (2), Texas (3), and surprisingly Stanford (16). This is the first time the Cardinal has been out of the top ten since 2009 and the lowest they have ranked since 2006 after two surprising losses to Tennessee and Chattanooga (go SoCon!). Welcome Oregon State Lady Beavers (10); they have cracked the top ten for the first time in school history. Always nice to see some new faces at the top!
Former SoCon rival Elon beat UNCG today 71-64. It has been since January 2010 since the Spartans have bested the Phoenix.
Though in the first half Elon was in desperate need of a break for dribble drills, they had three (if not four, I stopped counting) turnovers on walks. If you move with the ball, you have to be dribbling it. Pretty simple, really. The Phoenix also twice fouled our three point shooter- the dumbest play in basketball. There was sloppy passing on both sides and UNCG just could not get their feet under them.
I am also confused as to why Diante Baldwin did not start. He played 30 minutes, but did not start. The Spartans are more focused with a point guard on the court and Baldwin is the best player for that position-why is he not starting?
As for stats, Elon lead in points in the paint, points off turnovers, and points off fast breaks. Their bench was deep contributing 29 points to our 6. Wes was frustrated and it showed. He was particular animated on the sidelines and with just a few seconds left in the game a Technical Foul was assessed to the bench, but it was on Coach Miller. He was mad and it is always nice to see passion on the sidelines!
Coming off last game’s free throw shooting, this game was marked improvement 23-30 (77%) and 10% better than Elon’s 67%. Of course, the 7 points left on the court would have pushed us into overtime.
Our next home game is on New Year’s Eve in Fleming Gym. Such a fun place to watch basketball.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the halftime score of the kentucky-UCLA game: 41-7. Yes, UCLA scored 7 points in 20 minutes of basketball. Those players in that particular shade of blue scored 24 points before the Bruins put any points on the board. God, I hate Kentucky. But it did lead to this sentence, so there, “This was the most lopsided first half of basketball since the Monstars jumped out to a 66-18 lead on the Tune Squad in the movie Space Jam.”