PEMBROKE — When it comes to sleep, Nigel Grant doesn’t mess around.
Because of UNCP’s dominant rebounding effort in a 62-57 victory over Lenoir-Rhyne on Friday, the redshirt senior won’t have to worry about an early wake-up call on Saturday morning.
“The difference in the game was definitely rebounding,” said Grant, who logged a double-double with a team-high 14 points and 10 rebounds in the Braves’ season opener.
“We just got on the boards pretty early and kept crashing. We were relentless. Second-chance points are very important. Coach (Ben Miller) definitely emphasizes that. If we don’t win the rebounding battle, we have practice the next morning. I know no one wants to wake up early.”
Both teams struggled to knock down shots, with each squad shooting the ball at a 40 percent clip from the field.
But the No. 21 Braves (1-0) corralled 19 of their misses and turned them into 18 second-chance points. UNCP finished with 44 rebounds and a plus-14 advantage on the boards.
“I thought the second half was much better in how we attacked inside. We got to the free-throw line and controlled the backboards much better,” Miller said.
“Hopefully we do that in most games. But in an ugly game, where shots aren’t always falling, you have to get those second- and third-chance effort points.”
With the score tied at 25-all coming out of the break, the Braves used a 10-0 run to stretch the lead early in the second half. UNCP led by as many as 12 points late in the game, taking a 58-46 lead with 1:30 left to play. James Murray-Boyles capped the spurt with a baseline fadeaway jumper and Akia Pruitt followed with a steal and layup to keep the Bears at bay.
Murray-Boyles finished with 13 points and seven rebounds. Pruitt added a game-high 11 rebounds, seven points and three blocks. Brandon Watts logged 11 points to round out three Braves in double figures.
Lenoir-Rhyne battled back in the final two minutes, closing the gap with an 11-4 run for the final tally.
“Our guys have to understand that everyone on our schedule is really good,” Miller said. “I don’t think our guys overlooked them at all. I think we were a little tentative to start the game, didn’t really set the tone with our defense. Their zone was pretty good. It’s a matchup zone; it’s hard to simulate that in practice.”
“We didn’t do a great job of protecting the paint on the other end. They were really good off the bounce attacking. They got us stretched out a few times. Guys on the ball have to take a little more pride in guarding their man. Guys off the ball need to provide a little better help as well.”
Micah Kinsey scored seven points, pulled down five rebounds and dished out a game-best four assists for the Braves.
Lumberton native David Strother finished with seven points, four rebounds and three steals in his collegiate debut. Whiteville’s Tyrell Kirk logged three points and two rebounds.
The Braves will be back in action at 7 p.m. Saturday night against Catawba (0-1) in the final game of the PBC/SAC Challenge.
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5162. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.