BIRMINGHAM, Ala. --- For the eighth consecutive game, the outcome of the Samford University basketball team's Southern Conference matchup came down to a final possession. This time, the Bulldogs were on the short end of the stick as they missed their last five shots in a hard-fought 71-69 loss to the UNCG Spartans in the Pete Hanna Center.
"We can't go 7-of-32 from the arc and expect to win," said Samford head coach Jimmy Tillette. "We also missed a lot of wide-open looks and free throws down the stretch. Last time we played this team we had 23 turnovers and tonight we only had 10. We did finish with 16 offensive rebounds, but we still made a lot of coverage errors on the defensive end of the court."
With Thursday's setback, Samford (9-15, 6-7 SoCon) had its two-game winning streak snapped and suffered a loss for only the third time in nine outings. Heading into the contest, the Bulldogs were victorious in six of their last eight games and four of their last five.
UNCG (10-15, 8-5 SoCon) continued its hot streak Thursday. The Spartans tallied their eighth win in nine games and bounced back from a difficult 93-85 loss at Furman on Saturday.
Samford trailed UNCG Thursday, 71-68, with 1:29 remaining in the game. At the 1:12 mark, the Bulldogs' Drew Windler was fouled on a driving layup attempt and went to the line for a pair of free-throw attempts. Windler, Samford's talented 6-foot-9 center, knocked down the first shot to make the score, 71-69, but then missed the second attempt.
The Spartans' Trevis Simpson grabbed the rebound, but on the ensuing possession turned the ball over by stepping out of bounds with 50 seconds to play.
Following a Samford timeout, the Bulldogs ran through a designed play and found Windler open for a lead-changing 3-point basket at the top of the key. Windler, who is Samford's best 3-point shooter on the season at 43.6 percent, missed the attempt with 35 seconds left in the game, but the Bulldogs' Tyler Hood grabbed the offensive rebound.
Samford then took another 30-second timeout and with 23 seconds remaining, true freshman Raijon Kelly missed a 3-point attempt from the left flank. The rebound bounced all the way down the right sideline and went out of bounds off a diving UNCG player with 18 seconds to play.
On the Bulldogs' final possession of the game, Jeffrey Merritt attempted a wide-open 3-point shot from the left wing. The shot looked good coming off his hand, but hit the front rim, skidded across the top and rolled around the rim before it came off the right side near Windler.
Windler was able to get a hand on the rebound and tapped it up towards the basket, but the attempt never crossed over the cylinder and fell back down to the right side. The Spartans' David Williams then pulled down the final rebound as time expired for the 71-69 UNCG win.
"We had plenty of opportunities to win the game, especially at the end," Tillette said. "We only shot 22 percent from 3-point range and I'm going to say out of our 32 attempts from the arc, 30 of them were uncontested shots. Only one of two of them was really contested. We can't win games if we're shooting like that. We were able to get the ball inside effectively and that opened up our outside shooting, but then we also committed way too many fouls."
Thursday's contest was eerily similar to the first meeting between the teams when UNCG's Williams was able to hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer. This time, it was Samford's turn to win at the buzzer, but the shots just didn't fall.
"Tonight's loss was much more disappointing than the first one was," said Tillette. "That's because every game for us is so important right now, and it seems like every game comes down to the final possession. We know that we have a slim margin of error. We had plenty of opportunities to win and we just didn't."
The Bulldogs shot 40 percent from the field and 21.9 percent from 3-point range. Samford attempted 32 shots from beyond the arc, but only made seven.