PEMBROKE — There was a time when Ben Miller first arrived at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke in 2008 that his men’s basketball team would struggle with inferior opponents.
Games went down to the final stretch and too often key possessions would trickle out of play in front of sparse crowds.
On Monday, the Braves made quick work of a team that struggled to keep up — much like they have done the better half of three seasons against non-conference competitors — and cruised to a 90-67 win.
“Coming out of finals, we were a little sluggish and it wasn’t our best, but we’ll take some things away from it,” Miller said after the Braves’ first game since before Thanksgiving.”We didn’t shoot it well at all and I think if we shoot it better, it’s a different game. They did some things and bothered us a little bit.
UNCP’s victory over Mid-Atlantic Christian was its eighth straight to open the season. It’s the program’s best start since the 1999-00 team put together a nine-game streak before a late-December loss.
“I’m thankful that we’ve got a good week to prepare for the start of conference play on Saturday,” Miller said.
UNCP opens its Peach Belt schedule at home against USC Aiken, a regional power who is 7-2 this season. The Braves are one of three teams in Division II’s most competitive league still unbeaten and is expected to crack the Top 25 when it’s released later today.
“There’s a reason (USC Aiken) was picked to win our conference,” Miller said. “They’re a veteran team with nine or 10 seniors. We’ll have to be really good to have a chance to beat them.”
During Monday’s win, the Braves forced 21 turnovers and limited Mid-Atlantic Christian to six field goals in the first half to race out to a 25-point lead at intermission. UNCP continued it’s season-long infatuation with 3-point shots with 31 tries, but only converted eight.
The clanks from long range didn’t matter as the Braves dominated in the paint, on the boards and in transition.
Griffin Pittman was one of five players in double figures contributing a game-high 17 points.
“It was a big game for us and we take every game as a big game when you are undefeated,” Pittman said. “You are going to get everyone’s best effort and we feel like we played pretty good.”
Miller questioned his team’s effort level at times on the defensive end in the second half and said the Braves have many areas that need improvement despite their hot start.
“Defensively, we’ve made a lot of strides guarding the ball,” Miller said. “But it’s tough now to really shut it down with no more hand-checks. We could always do better rebounding. We didn’t rebound tonight like we’re capable of.”
Reach staff writer Brad Crawford at firstname.lastname@example.org of follow him on Twitter @MrPalmettoSDS.