Wofford 81 ETSU 72
(Asheville, NC) – As far as shot-making goes, the coaches on both sidelines thought they had seen everything imaginable over the past four years from Wofford’s senior sharp-shooter Fletcher Magee. The Southern Conference’s Player of the Year, on the brink of NCAA history, is known for his variety of high-risk, no-look, long-range three pointers with defenders draped all over him. However to make one with the season on the line is enough to leave even the most experienced and traveled coaches shaking their heads.
With just over eight minutes remaining in their back and forth semifinal matchup with ETSU, the Terriers watched as their ten point lead had been trimmed to four, and could feel the momentum slipping away. That’s when Wofford head coach Mike Young did something he doesn’t normally do in order to get an outcome he normally gets.
“(When ETSU) cut it to four, I called timeout, which I typically don’t do,” Young said. “So we’re going to run something for a pretty good player, which we’ve done many, many, many times in the last four years.”
And the pretty good player, Magee, delivered. His twisting, acrobatic defended three pointer with 8:29 remaining pushed the Terrier lead to 62-59, and the Buccaneers would get no closer. Wofford closed out the game with a 81-72 win, securing their place in the 2019 Ingles Southern Conference Men’s Basketball Championship game.
“That’s a hard shot,” Young said. “That’s a high-degree-of-difficulty shot. To throw that thing in the air and watch it go through the barrel and bring the lead back to seven, that flips (the momentum) back to our favor. That has nothing to do with coaching. That’s good players making big time plays.”
Buccaneers head coach Steve Forbes concurred.
“Bo Hodges is a really good defender,” Forbes said. “So is (Isaiah) Tisdale. They were there. I’ve seen this for four years now. And hopefully the nation will see that. I don’t think the nation quite understands what we understand in this league how hard he is to guard. It’s almost comical that he can be looking the other direction and make a 3 from 35 feet.”
Magee, after contributing a very average eleven point effort on 2-of-8 three-point shooting in a quarterfinal win against VMI on Saturday, was back in elite shooting form with 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting, connecting on 6-of-7 from deep.
“Yesterday, I felt like I was getting better shots, but I wasn’t knocking them down,” Magee said. “It might have been first-game nerves. Today, I thought they (ETSU) made it kind of tough on me. But with how well we screened, I was able to get some decent looks off. Today, I’m glad I was able to knock them all down.”
The Buccaneersheld their own early in the game, leading for the first eight minutes of the contest. But a jumper in the paint by sophomore Keve Aluma with 11:38 left in the half gave the Terriers a lead they would never relinquish. Shooting 57% from the field and dominating 24-12 in the paint helped provide Wofford with a 37-30 lead at the half.
Wofford improved their offensive effort in the second half, shooting 62% from the field and 75% from three as they raced to their 28thwin of the season.
“There’s no weaknesses on the floor so it’s really hard to guard them and we just couldn’t guard them enough to win the game,” Forbes said. “We had plenty of chances to cut into it. We got to six and five many times, we just couldn’t get over the hump and that’s a credit to them.”
If Magee was the lighting in Wofford’s offense, 6-8, 250 lb. senior Cameron Jackson was once again the thunder. Jackson poured in 20 points of his own (9/12 FG), grabbed seven rebounds, and dished out four assists.
“I just do what I can to put this team in a position to win and I think I did everything I could do today,” Jackson said. “Coach drew up some plays to get me in a good area and I was able to take advantage today.”
Junior Nathan Hoover added ten points (3/5 3FG) for the Terriers, while Aluma scored six and secured seven rebounds as well.
The Buccaneers were paced by freshman Daivien Williamson with 17 points, sophomore Mladen Armus with 15 points and nine rebounds, junior Tray Boyd III with 13 points and three assists, and Tisdale with twelve points and five boards.
“I’m really proud of my team,” Forbes said. “We had 10 new players, we got 24 wins and they played their guts out. We played hard. We were really good. We just weren’t special. There’s a difference. Wofford’s special. We’re not. Not yet. And we’ll use this experience to carry us forward next year.”
Now the Terriers turn their attention to the finals and some unfinished business. For all of the personal accolades in his career, Magee is most excited to be playing in the SoCon championship game for the first time in his career.
“That’s the main goal when you come here, to win the league and go to the NCAA tournament,” Magee said. “We lost in this game, the semifinals, twice in a row, so to finally get on that stage and get that great opportunity to get to the promised land, we’ll be loaded up and excited.”
UNCG 66 Furman 62
(Asheville, NC) – Stop me if you’ve heard the story of the #2 seed in the SoCon tournament facing a growing deficit as the clock fades, only to increase the defensive pressure, hit key shots, and go on their best run of the game to close out the opponent and advance.
If UNCG’s 13-4 run against Furman in the final five minutes of the Southern Conference semifinal gameto win 66-62 sounds familiar, it’s because they wrote a similar script less than 24 hours earlier. In Saturday’s quarterfinal game with Samford, the Spartans faced a 66-58 deficit with six minutes remaining, and closed out the game and the Bulldogs’ hopes with a 19-4 run on their way to a 77-70 win.
“Wow, that was an unbelievable game,” UNCG’s head coach Wes Miller said. “I can’t express how proud I am of my team. I’ve got a special group of kids that refuse to give in. Hats off to Bob (Furman head coach Bob Richey) and his group. I knew that every time we played them was going to be an absolute war. It was that way all three games.”
Although never leading by more than six points and only shooting 37% from the field, UNCG held the lead for much of the first half, and entered the break with a slim 26-24 lead. And despite being down by just two points, Richey knew his team was out of synch in the first 20 minutes. Coming off their Saturday game against Mercer where they had 25 assists on 30 made field goals, he felt the Paladin offense wasn’t making UNCG play defense.
“We weren’t moving,” Richey said. “We weren’t forcing rotations. They were able to stay hat on hat. We had one assist at half time and we had 24 points. So really it was about getting the ball moving, getting bodies moving, cutting the way we cut and not being stagnant.”
Richey got his wish, and the Furman offense began moving and scoring. A three by junior Jordan Lyons in the first minute of the second half gave the Paladins a 27-26 lead, a lead they kept until the final five minutes.
“We had seven assists in the second half and scored 38 points,” Richey said. “That’s more like it for us. But we had to free up our shooters. And to do that we had to get more ball movement and body movement.”
But with the Spartans on the brink of elimination, they turned to the scoring of senior guard Francis Alonso and the defense and rebounding of junior James Dickey to complete the comeback. Dickey, matched against SoCon 1stteam post player Matt Rafferty, held his own and frustrated the talented post player all night. Although Rafferty finished with a team high 17 points, he did so on a subpar night of 6-of-15 shooting.
“We didn’t double (Matt Rafferty) once,” Miller said. “We buried him (Dickey) down there by himself against one of the best players in this league. We didn’t give him any help and he did an unbelievable job fighting.”
Alonso had a game high 19 points, and red-shirt freshman Kaleb hunter added ten points off the bench. Dickey grabbed a game high 15 rebounds, and senior Demetrius Troy dished out five assists.
Rafferty added ten boards and five assists, and Lyons chipped in 15 points for Furman (25-7).
The win by UNCG (28-5) sets up the third meeting in a row with Wofford in the SoCon tournament. The Spartans eliminated the Terriers in the semi-finals in 2017 and 2018. In more recent history, Wofford dominated the regular season matchups between the teams, winning 72-43 in Greensboro in January, and 80-50 in Spartanburg in February. Despite the outcomes, Miller is excited for another opportunity, especially on a championship stage.
“Their will to compete against us in those two games was greater than our will,” Miller said. “In the first game, I was disappointed in our approach. All the things I’ve talked about that I’m proud about this team throughout the year, it may be the one game all year I wasn’t proud of that. At their place, we had a great will to compete. They had a better one. So that’s the first thing we need to address. Now they have an unbelievable basketball team. We have a tremendous amount of respect for how good they are. I know this will be a big-time challenge, but I have a bunch of kids who love to compete, so we’re not going to back down from it.”
UNCG and Wofford meet at 7 pm in the U.S. Cellular Center. The game will be televised on ESPN.
HMG Staff: Paul Whitt and Pete Wehry