Perfection in the Southern Conference was never going to come easy for Wofford. It didn’t all year.
The No. 20 Terriers, who entered Monday night’s Southern Conference championship game 20-0 against league teams, had one final tussle against UNCG in Asheville, North Carolina with an automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament on the line. Just as Wofford did in its 20 previous SoCon games, the Terriers came out on top.
Wofford rallied for a 70-58 victory against the Spartans at the U.S. Cellular Center and locked in an NCAA Tournament bid for the first time since 2015. Wofford has now won five SoCon titles in 10 years and awaits its NCAA Tournament seed and destination, which will be announced on Sunday.
“That was an old-fashioned rock fight there for a while. It was like watching a tractor pull,” Terriers coach Mike Young said. “But really good players and a team with a nice level of resolve and we found a way. I don’t really know how we did it but we found a way. I’m beyond happy and excited for a team that, needless to say, is pretty special.”
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The Terriers trailed by as many as nine points midway through the first half and did not take their first lead until a Nathan Hoover free throw put Wofford ahead 40-39 with 12:37 remaining.
The Spartans still led 55-50 with 5:41 left before Wofford put the pedal to the floor, going on a 16-0 run over a span of 4:39. The Terriers ended the game on a 20-3 run and held UNCG to one field goal over the final 5:41 of the game.
“I told them before the game, no great thought on my part, we’re going to win by guarding and rebounding. This team, our numbers aren’t staggering, they’re not elite numbers… But this team will guard,” Young said. “Those are two pretty great ingredients to have going into the NCAA Tournament when you know you’re going to play somebody big and good.”
The victory was Wofford’s 20th in a row. The Terriers have not lost since Dec. 19 at Mississippi State. Wofford went 18-0 in the regular season before sweeping through the SoCon tournament, going 3-0 in three days.
Monday night’s game against UNCG was one of several tough tests Wofford faced during its impressive run. The Terriers played four games decided by five points or less during the regular season, including a 107-106 victory against Samford when point guard Storm Murphy hit a shot at the buzzer to lift the Terriers to a win.
Through it all Wofford finished SoCon play undefeated, becoming the first SoCon team to run the table in league play since Steph Curry led Davidson to a perfect mark in 2008.
“I’ve been here a long time. I’ve seen Charleston with that great team. I saw Davidson and that Elite 8 team... This was the best our league has been top to bottom,” Young said.
Terriers guard Nathan Hoover exploded in the second half, scoring all 20 of his points after intermission to lead the Wofford rally.
Hoover finished 5-for-9 from the floor, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers and all eight of his free-throw attempts. He was also Wofford’s emotional leader down the stretch, firing up his teammates and the crowd of 6,400 fans wearing mostly black and gold.
“That’s just how I’ve always grown up to play. Whatever you want to do, you do it with all you’ve got. I’m just a very emotional person. When I get emotional I get the fans, I get my teammates fired up and we’re very tough to beat,” Hoover said. “Some shots went in, I started feeling good.”
SoCon Player of the Year Fletcher Magee scored 20 points as well but they didn’t come easy. The sharpshooter was only 4-for-15 from the floor. He was named the tournament’s MVP after scoring 57 points in three games.
The senior has received plenty of accolades during his career but said an NCAA Tournament berth tops all of them.
“It means 10 times more than any individual milestone that any of us could achieve,” he said. “We came in together, and our goal was to win the conference tournament and go to the NCAA Tournament and win some games in the NCAA Tournament.”
Wofford big man Cameron Jackson, an All-Southern Conference Player, added 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
UNCG was led by Francis Alonso, who scored 21 points. Isaiah Miller added 19.
The NCAA Tournament Selection Show is 6 p.m. Sunday on CBS.
Dickey 1-4 2-2 4, Galloway 2-7 3-3 7, Troy 1-5 0-0 2, Miller 8-9 2-5 19, Alonso 6-19 7-8 21, Hamilton 1-3 1-2 3, Abdulsalam 0-0 0-1 0, Hunter 0-1 0-0 0, Massey 0-1 0-0 0, Allegri 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 20-53 15-21 58.
Jackson 6-10 3-4 15, Aluma 2-3 0-0 4, Hoover 5-9 8-8 20, Murphy 2-6 2-2 7, Magee 4-15 8-9 20, Goodwin 2-2 0-1 4, Pegram 0-2 0-0 0, Larson 0-0 0-0 0, Hollowell 0-0 0-0 0, Theme-Love 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 21-48 21-24 70.
Halftime: UNC-Greensboro 31-27. 3-Point Goals: UNC-Greensboro 3-16 (Alonso 2-6, Miller 1-1, Hunter 0-1, Troy 0-2, Allegri 0-3, Galloway 0-3), Wofford 7-23 (Magee 4-13, Hoover 2-5, Murphy 1-3, Pegram 0-1, Theme-Love 0-1). Fouled Out: Dickey. Rebounds: UNC-Greensboro 23 (Dickey 7), Wofford 29 (Jackson 7). Assists: UNC-Greensboro 9 (Alonso 3), Wofford 8 (Jackson 5). Total Fouls: UNC-Greensboro 19, Wofford 19. Attendance: 6,400 (7,200).