GREENSBORO — And now the city’s two Division I basketball teams will go their separate ways, each making its path through the regular season toward their all-important conference tournaments.
But for one night, UNCG and N.C. A&T belonged to all of Greensboro.
And the city turned out in record numbers for a UNCG home opener, a crowd of 8,131 watching the Spartans clobber A&T 83-50 in the Greensboro Coliseum.
“We appreciate the crowd so much. So much,” UNCG senior James Dickey said. “I don’t think they realize how it helps. We get motivation from Coach (Wes) Miller and from ourselves, but that crowd just brings a different element that nothing else can bring. It gives us something more to play for. And we really enjoy it.”
The crowd saw two new-look teams, although there were more new faces in A&T’s rotation. And it showed.
Kaleb Hunter, a sophomore swingman, scored 17 points in his first start for UNCG alongside four veterans. He had the last five points of the Spartans’ decisive 18-2 scoring run in the game’s first 5 minutes..
“He was phenomenal tonight,” Wes Miller said. “We were a little smaller last year, starting three guards. Kaleb is more of a wing, or at least a bigger guard, and he makes us more athletic. I’ll tell you what, he gives us a presence on the backboards that we haven’t had since Marvin Smith played that position. And he’s got a really good ability to score the ball, driving downhill. Kaleb’s got a really bright future as a good two-way player.”
Truth is, UNCG has a lot of good two-way players. For four years, the Spartans built around the same leading scorer. Francis Alonso was simply the best guard in the program’s history.
Make no mistake: UNCG will miss him. There will be times this season when the Spartans desperately need a basket, and they no longer have the luxury of letting Alonso sink a deep jump shot.
Instead, these Spartans will rely on waves of talent off a deep bench, athletic players willing and able to defend.
“This has to be the most dynamic pressing team I’ve ever had,” Wes Miller said. “We need to use our depth and athleticism defensively to be a good team. And so our press needs to be a little more dynamic. We need to fly around more. At times tonight, we lost some energy in the game. But at times, we were pretty good in (the press) and able to create a little havoc.”
It was havoc A&T’s new guys weren’t quite ready to face.
Of the 10 Aggies who played at least 10 minutes, only four played for A&T last year. That includes forward Ron Jackson, who scored a team-high 17 points, and point guard Kam Langley, who grabbed a team-high nine rebounds.
“No excuses. We lost, and we lost badly to them,” A&T coach Jay Joyner said. “The past two years, this is probably the worst we’ve played against anyone. But I’ve figured out ways to mesh talent the last couple of years, and this year is no different. We have new faces, and guys have new roles, and we’re going to be fine. We will figure it out. This was just a tough, tough night.”
That’s an understatement. A&T missed 20 of its first 27 shots, and after UNCG’s big run to start the game the Aggies never got closer than 12 points to the lead the rest of the way.
“When you’re away from your home gym,” Joyner said, “you have to come out and execute early to establish some momentum. If you don’t, well …”
Joyner’s voice trailed off.
“Our offense was never fluid, and that’s tough,” he said. “We’re still figuring some things out. I know we can play much better.”
The scary thing is, UNCG can likely play much better, too.
Newcomers Keyshaun Langley, Michael Hueitt and Bas Leyte all showed flashes of brilliance, and all three outscored established, veteran senior starters Dickey, Kyrin Galloway and Malik Massey.
“Athleticism is a gift that we’ve received this year, with the incoming talent as well as with the guys we already had here,” Dickey said. “… We’re going to try to fly around more on defense, try to pick up our initial (defensive) position better and try to wear teams out for 40 minutes. It’s pressure, pressure, pressure, pressure for 40 minutes.”
NOTES: This was the 20th game between the programs, and A&T leads the all-time series 11-9. … Both teams’ first baskets of the season were dunks, UNCG’s by Dickey on a putback and A&T’s by Ron Jackson off an assist pass from Kam Langley. … Isaiah Miller, last season’s Southern Conference defensive player of the year, had three of UNCG’s 12 steals. … UNCG outrebounded A&T 46-33. … UNCG freshman Keyshaun Langley finished with 7 points, 6 assists and 2 steals in his debut. Twin brother Kobe Langley did not play.