Head coach Ben Miller reminded his basketball team after Saturday’s loss to Montevallo that as a 2011 NCAA Tournament qualifier and the Peach Belt Conference’s preseason East favorite, the Braves should expect the opposition’s best shot every outing.
“We told our guys it means a little more now to get a win against UNCP,” Miller said. “Teams are aware of us. Give (Montevallo) credit, they were hungrier than us for the most part. Hopefully our guys learned a lesson last weekend.”
The University of North Carolina at Pembroke men’s team practiced Wednesday afternoon for a third consecutive day before departing to Dahlonega, Ga. for today’s tilt with North Georgia. The Saints (7-6, 2-1) are a game back of the Falcons in the West and are 5-1 at home this season.
“We’ll see how a few good practices translate (Thursday),” Miller said.
For the first time in 11 games, the Braves (10-5, 4-1) were out-rebounded and allowed a season-high 48 points in the second half to the Falcons. Coming into the weekend battle between PBC Division leaders, Montevallo ranked eighth in the country in rebounding while UNCP came in at No. 11.
The loss ended a four-game win streak for the Braves.
“Plain and simple, I thought we got out-worked,” Miller said. “Rebounding is about focus and effort. You have to focus on the block outs and get to the boards. Losses are going to happen in this league since it’s really good from top to bottom.
“You just got to do your best every day and try and get better.”
With just four starts in the previous 14 games, freshman guard Griffin Pittman worked his way into Saturday’s lineup with an impressive 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio in conference play. His scoring has also picked up against league competition highlighted by a season-high 10-point effort in a win over Armstrong Atlantic on Dec. 19.
Miller hopes Pittman and fellow freshman Ben Jacobs’ production continues.
“I think once freshmen or transfers get to the second semester, they have a feel for the Peach Belt,” Miller said. “Griffin and Ben have to understand they’re very capable and their teammates have confidence in them.”
One of tonight’s keys to disrupting North Georgia will be Marcus Heath and the rest of the Braves’ dual assignment of guarding Clarence Tillman and Scott Windom, the Saints’ top scorers at 18.2 points per game. Over the weekend, Heath, along with the help of K.J. Cooper, limited the PBC’s top threat, D.J. Rivera, well below his season average.
“He moves his feet well with great athleticism,” Miller said of Heath.
Saddled with three early fouls against Montevallo, Heath played just 20 minutes and finished with nine points. He fouled out with 1:44 to play leaving the Braves handcuffed defensively in the halfcourt trailing by four.
“Marcus is one of the best defenders in the league and it’s that very competitiveness that sometimes gets him into trouble,” Miller said. “He’s going to fight every possession, but he needs to understand he’s got to play with poise. He has to use his quickness to get in better position. I think cutting out a couple of the unnecessary fouls would really help our basketball team.”
The Braves and Saints tip-off at 7:30 p.m.
Reach Staff writer Brad Crawford at 910-272-6119 or at email@example.com