RALEIGH — UNC-Greensboro earned one of its biggest victories of the Wes Miller era with an upset win at NC State, 81-76 on Saturday.
“We’re really proud of our group,” Miller said. “It’s a really good win for our school. It’s a good win for our program. It’s a good win for our players.”
The Spartans trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half before storming back to tie the game late in the first half.
In the second half, UNCG opened with an 18-3 run that put the Wolfpack in a double-digit hole for most of the rest of the way.
The win was the third ever against an ACC team for the Spartans and first over NC State.
“Make no mistake about it, when you coach in this state, your players feel it. Your school feels it. You feel it as a coach sometimes, and rightfully so,” Miller said. “You’re overshadowed by the ACC. To come in and win a game against an ACC opponent is a big deal to our program.”
The Spartans were led by Marvin Smith, who had a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Francis Alonso added 17 points and six assists.
“I thought Marvin Smith played the best game of his career,” Miller said. “He’s had better stat lines before, but he was just engaged in every single possession.”
A switch to a zone defense helped fuel UNCG’s game-breaking run.
“Changing defenses is part of our identity,” Miller said. “I wasn’t as good of a coach in the first 10 minutes when we were trying to play zone unsuccessfully, but I think in the second half our zone was much more engaged … As we got into the second half, we felt like zone was the thing to stick with, and we tried to play as many possessions of two-three zone as we possibly could.”
Half of NC State’s 26 shots in the second half were 3-pointers, as the Pack struggled to penetrate the zone.
The Wolfpack played without point guard Markell Johnson, whose suspension was announced just before the game. Head coach Kevin Keatts said Johnson’s absence had no negative impact on the team, but the Pack appeared to struggle to find on-court leadership.
“It was definitely a big difference,” said forward Abdul-Malik Abu, who made his first start of the season. “Markell’s absence, his speed, his athleticism, the way he pressures the ball, that always changes the game when you have a dynamic point guard who can get the ball up the court.”
Without Johnson, the Pack struggled to defend the perimeter against UNCG.
“The scouting report on the defensive end (said) we had to do a great job taking their threes away, and we did a poor job,” Keatts said. “We gave up 12 3-pointers in the game.”
NC State battled back and had a chance to tie the game on a 3-pointer with seconds remaining. Allerik Freeman got stripped before he got the shot off, however.
It was a lost opportunity that will give the Wolfpack plenty to work on, with the start of ACC play just two weeks away.
“We did everything right for 16 minutes of the first half,” Keatts said. “The last four or five minutes of the first half, we had some breakdowns. The second half, it was more of the same. We’ve got to do a better job coming out of the locker room.”