Freshman guard Ronnie Taylor scored 10 points in a key five-minute second-half stretch, and UNCG hit 14 free throws in the final 4:20 to hold off East Tennessee State 77-67 at home January 29 and gain a share of first place in the Southern Conference's North Division.
The Spartans extended the conference's longest men's basketball winning streak to six games and improved to 13-7 (7-2 SoCon). The Bucs (12-8, 7-2) had a seven-game winning streak snapped.
UNCG stayed unbeaten in Fleming Gym (7-0) and gained a conference first-place standing for the first time since February 1996, when it completed a two-year reign atop the Big South.
Greensboro's D.J. McDuffie gave ETSU a 60-58 edge on a layup with 5:48 remaining, but the Bucs hit only two field goals -- both three-pointers -- the rest of the way.
Taylor canned his third three-pointer of the game to retake the lead for the Spartans, 61-60, with 5:13 left, and senior guard Courtney Eldridge started a parade to the free throw line with a pair at the 4:20 mark. He was 13-for-16 from the stripe for the game.
Taylor and Eldridge finished with a game-high 17 points each. The freshman sank four straight baskets for the team beginning at the 8:47 mark and ending with a jumper with 3:42 left for a 65-60 advantage.
"I said to Ronnie at halftime, 'Be aggressive, you're at your best when you're aggressive,' and that's what he did," said UNCG coach Fran McCaffery. "He and Courtney got us home tonight."
UNCG led 39-23 at the end of a 25-7 run covering eight minutes, capped by Nathan Jameson's trey with 2:11 left in the first half. In that stretch the Spartans were 10-for-12 from the floor and seven different players scored.
But ETSU recaptured the lead on a 20-4 run covering both halves in which it hit eight of 11 shots from the floor. Sam Oatman's layup with 15:28 remaining in the game gave the Bucs a 44-43 edge.
"(ETSU) exerted a lot of energy to get the lead back and I didn't sub as much in the second half," McCaffery added. "The difference was that we made three or four stops late and they couldn't get any good looks."
Jay Joseph, the SoCon's leading freshman scorer, added 12 points and David Schuck 11 for UNCG. Schuck was 7-for-8 from the line. Renaldo Johnson had a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds and Ryan Lawson had 12 points for ETSU.
The Spartans, ranked among national leaders in free-throw shooting, were 32-for-39 from the line while the Bucs, who rank last in that stat category in the SoCon, were 8-for-14.
UNCG is at South Division leader Charleston February 3 while ETSU hosts Western Carolina that day.