SYRACUSE, N.Y. – The UNCG men’s basketball team closed out a special 2016-17 season Wednesday night as the Spartans dropped a hard-fought 90-77 battle with hosting Syracuse in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament at the Carrier Dome.
Syracuse advances in the NIT with the win and will host Mississippi on Saturday.
The loss drops the Spartans to 25-10 on the season, the best record in program history and marks their fifth postseason appearance in program history, including second straight season in the postseason. The Spartans were making their second appearance all-time in the NIT and the first since 2002. The 25 victories are a program record in the 50-year history of UNCG basketball.
Senior guard Diante Baldwin closed out his storied career with a near triple-double to lead the Spartans. Baldwin scored a team-high 19 points to go along with a career-high tying nine assists and eight rebounds. Baldwin connected on 8-of-15 from the field in 38 minutes, while also recording three steals. He finished his UNCG career 14th all-time in scoring history with 1,226 points, third in assists with 437 and fourth all-time in steals with 170.
Senior center R.J. White scored 16 points in his final UNCG game, 14 of which came in the second half as he battled foul trouble. White connected on 7-of-12 from the field and also dished out three assists. He finishes his UNCG career eighth all-time in scoring with 1,460 points and fourth on the glass with 878 rebounds. He is also the all-time leader at UNCG with 140 career games played.
Sophomore guard Demetrius Troy scored 14 points off the bench in the first half, providing the Spartans’ spark. Troy connected on 4-of-8 from 3-point range in the loss. Redshirt freshman forward James Dickey chipped in 12 points off the bench, connecting 6-of-8 from the field.
The Spartans finished the game shooting 46.5 percent (33-of-71) from the field, but hit just 24.1 percent (7-of-29) from 3-point land. UNCG outscored the Orange 46-24 in the paint and dished out 22 assists on the night while only committing 12 turnovers. The Spartans’ 77 points are the second-most points scored by a Syracuse opponent in the Carrier Dome this year (St. John’s, 91=3).
Andrew White led the Orange offensively with a career-high 34 points and six rebounds. White connected on 11-of-15 from the field, including 7-of-9 from 3-point land, and hit 5-of-6 from the free throw line. Syracuse (19-14) was strong offensively, hitting 55.8 percent (29-of-52) from the field and 42.9 percent (9-of-21) from deep. The Orange went to the free throw line 28 times, connecting on 82.1 percent, while the Spartans only went to the free throw line eight times. Tyus Battle added 20 points and Tyler Lydon posted a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
The Spartans came out of the gate and scored the game’s first basket as freshman forward Kyrin Galloway was on the receiving end of a lob pass, dunking the pass in the first 15 seconds. Syracuse settled in as White started to heat up as the Orange opened to an 18-11 lead after back-to-back 3-pointers from White.
The Spartans responded with a 13-5 run to take a 24-23 lead with 9:07 remaining. Troy came off the bench and hit three straight 3-pointers against the Syracuse zone to ignite the Spartans. The Orange answered right back with a 12-0 run to take a 35-24 lead as Frank Howard hit a 3-pointer and Battle converted a 3-point play. White hit his fourth 3-pointer giving the Orange the 11-point lead.
The Spartans went into the locker room trailing 47-37 after Troy hit a mid-range jumped in the final minute. UNCG connected on 50 percent (16-of-32) from the field and hit 38.5 percent (5-of-13) from distance, including a 4-of-4 by Troy alone. He finished with 14 points while Baldwin added eight points in the opening half.
Syracuse connected on 18-of-28 (64.3%) from the field and hit 60 percent (6-of-10) from distance in the first half. White led the Orange with 19 points as he was 7-of-10 from the field, including 4-of-5 from 3-point land.
Syracuse opened the second half and quickly extended the lead to 60-43, forcing the Spartans into a timeout as White again got loose for another 3-pointers. The Orange would extend their lead to as many as 22 points a 69-47 when Battle hit a pair of free throws with 11:57 remaining.
The Spartans showed their character and kept clawing back into the game, scoring eight straight points to force a Syracuse timeout after narrowing the gap to 69-55. White scored four straight points in the paint while Dickey added another dunk. Baldwin capped the spurt by scoring off a drive against the Syracuse zone.
Syracuse would extend the lead back out at 81-63 with 5:48 remaining after White hit his seventh 3-pointer. The Spartans had their last go at the Orange, scoring 11 straight points to pull within seven at 81-74. RJ White scored four more points in the paint before Dickey again scored down low to make it a 10-point game. Baldwin hit a big 3-pointer to trim the deficit to seven with 2:05 remaining, but the Spartans ran out of time as Syracuse hit its free throws in the final two minutes to keep the Spartans at bay.