Ben Miller and the Braves stared up at the scoreboard inside Stanford’s Maples Pavilion Sunday afternoon and saw they were within striking distance of Johnny Dawkins’ Cardinal during UNCP’s first action amidst an eight-day trip out west.
Stanford’s 9-1 run that followed Reggie Cobia’s slam snuffed out an upset bid but meant the Braves battled to a respectable finish against a PAC-12 contender just outside the Top 25 that’s coming off an NIT title.
Despite a few players being first-time flyers, the Braves didn’t show signs of jet lag against Stanford, jumping out to a 8-2 before the second media timeout. UNCP touched down in Palo Alto, Calif. late Saturday on a connection flight from Atlanta and returns home following a three-game stretch in Anaheim on Nov. 11.
“Overall, I thought we took a step in the right direction with our defensive effort (against Stanford),” Miller said. “The rebounding was better, except for a 5-minute stretch in the second half where they got some second chance points. We had some turnovers and those, combined with their second chance points, were the difference in the game.”
On Monday, the Braves battled nearby San Francisco at War Memorial Gymnasium. Prior to tip-off, senior center George Blakeney posted a picture on Facebook of Bill Russell’s retired jersey that hangs from the rafters. Russell helped the Dons to consecutive national championships in 1955 and ‘56 and won a gold medal at the Summer Olympics as a senior.
In 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics, Russell captured an NBA-record 11 titles and is one of only two players to ever bring down 50 rebounds in a game. On the same campus Russell starred, Blakeney pulled down nine boards and scored six points, but the Braves fell victim to a 24-2 run in the first half before falling, 94-57. After dropping 11 points on the Cardinal, UNCP freshman Quamain Rose reached double figures for the second straight game.
Miller admitted fatigue could've been a factor at San Francisco as the Braves were playing their second exhibition game in a 24-hour stretch.
"They played better and they coached better," Miller said. "It was more them playing hard and aggressive and being more prepared, than it was anything with us. I was really impressed with their effort, their talent and their preparation. They were ready for us. I give them all the credit."
Over the next few days prior to opening the season against DII competition in Anaheim, UNCP will visit several historical sites, hold daily practices and enjoy two days at Disneyland. The official start of the 2012-13 season is Friday in the opening round of the Disney West Coast Tip Off Classic against Northern State.
It'll mark the first of three games in three days before heading home.