GREENSBORO — There was a moment in the second half of Monday night’s finale of the Spartan Invitational that spoke volumes about UNCG.
Bas Leyte, a 6-foot-10 freshman forward, planted himself in the lane and drew a charge, crashing to the floor with an Appalachian State big man on top of him.
And the UNCG bench went nuts.
Players and coaches alike celebrated a hustle play on defense more than any of the dunks by Isaiah Miller, Kaleb Hunter and Kyrin Galloway that helped the Spartans build a 13-point lead to that point of their eventual 55-41 victory over App.
“I hope we get pumped up over any good play, but, yeah, that’s great to see,” UNCG coach Wes Miller said. “When this team decides that our identity is going to be built on defense and rebounding, this is going to be a really good basketball team. We’re not where I want us to be on the mentality side yet, but we are taking steps. We took some steps forward tonight.”
It wasn’t always pretty. UNCG broke open a close game with a 14-0 scoring run to start the second half and were never seriously threatened again. But when Leyte took the charge, the Spartans were in the midst of an awful offensive stretch when they missed 13 of 15 shots.
And it didn’t really matter, because on the defensive end The G held App to 5-for-27 shooting and 13 second-half points.
“We’re not playing our best basketball right now, but it’s November, so that’s OK,” Wes Miller said. “We’re not in sync offensively. But I was proud the way we came out in the second half and held them scoreless for a bunch of time (App went the first 4:32 without a field goal). If we’ll embrace being a team that rebounds and really guards on that end of the floor, we can be really good. Because the offense is going to come over time.”
Time, and extra games.
The Spartan Invitational was an odd exercise, a pseudo tournament with no real champion. Tennessee Tech, Montana State and Appalachian State were invited to play games along with Division III Averett.
UNCG hosted the event for selfish reasons.
No. 1, by NCAA rules it allowed the Spartans to play 31 regular-season games instead of 29. No. 2, the three games in four days at the end simulates the rigors of the Southern Conference Tournament in March.
“You play an MTE (multi-team event) in college basketball, and you get to play two more games in your season,” Wes Miller said. “Shoot, I like games. So you play an MTE just so you can play more games. That’s the honest-to-God truth. But, within that, I love the idea of playing back-to-back nights.”
Originally, the schedule called for UNCG to play back-to-back-to-back games against Appalachian, Tennessee Tech and Montana State on Friday through Sunday.
“We couldn’t do it because the Coliseum had a conflict over the weekend,” Wes Miller said, “and we wanted the App State game to be here at the Coliseum as an in-state rivalry game. But we liked the idea of playing three games in three days, because if you’re lucky enough that they let you stay around when you go up to the conference tournament in Asheville, maybe you get to play two days in a row, and if you’re lucky enough, you get to play three days in a row. And hopefully, it won’t be the first time you’ve done it.”
The App State game drew a paid crowd of 3,265, nearly twice the basketball capacity of 1,800 at UNCG’s on-campus Fleming Gym.
The crowd saw a UNCG team still in search of itself on offense as the Spartans rush headlong into conference play, hosting VMI on Sunday.
It also saw a team excited about taking charges, blocking shots, forcing shot-clock and 10-second violations. A team excited about defense.