A once-comfortable Samford lead dissolved in the final minutes of the Bulldogs’ Southern Conference first place showdown at University of North Carolina Greensboro. But the win doesn’t have to be comfortable to count in the conference standings.
So, it was a happy group of Samford players exiting the Greensboro Coliseum court after holding on for a 70-68 victory over the Spartans on Saturday afternoon.
With the win, the Bulldogs (10-7 overall, 4-0 SoCon) are the lone unbeaten team in SoCon play after four games. UNCG falls to 9-8 overall and moves into a three-way tie for second place with Furman and Western Carolina. All three are 3-1 in SoCon play.
Take away a miserable beginning and Samford was in control most of the way. The Bulldogs missed 11 of their first 12 shots and dropped into a 12-3 hole in the first nine minutes. However, the Bulldogs responded like the adversity tested-team that they are, putting together a 13-0 run that included five points by AJ Staton-McCray and 3-pointers by Jaron Rillie and Bubba Parham. Samford never trailed again, but there were still some anxious moments.
At halftime, the Bulldogs led, 34-31, despite being outscored, 7-1, over the final 2:30 of the half.
In the second half, Samford led by as many as 14 points. The lead was 67-57 with four minutes left after Staton-McCray drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Nathan Johnson made a nice pass to set up the 3-pointer. The Spartans scored nine consecutive points to pull to within a point with 1:11 left. The final four points in the run were set up by backcourt turnovers by the Bulldogs.
Staton-MccRay hit two free throws with 56 seconds to end the run. Neither team scored again until UNCG hit two free throws with five seconds left. Rillie was fouled in the backcourt but made just one of throw free throws to give the Bulldogs the 70-68 lead. UNCG, which didn’t have a timeout to set up a play, rushed the ball up the court but a contested 3-pointer by Keondre Kennedy was blocked by Marshall just before the buzzer.
Staton-McCray had his best game of the season, contributing 17 points, three rebounds, two steals and an assist. Logan Dye had 17 points, eight rebounds, four assists and a steal. Parham had a season-high four 3-pointers and finished with 15 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals.
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