PEMBROKE — Coming from a junior college in St. Petersburg to a Division II program in Pembroke, Tee Graham made quite the splash in her debut for The University of North Carolina at Pembroke women’s basketball team on Saturday.
The redshirt sophomore ran the show for the Lady Braves in a 72-65 win over Fayetteville State, finishing with 15 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals.
“It was actually pretty cool coming from a juco to a big college,” said Graham, who logged 13 points in the second half to help UNCP seize control in its season opener.
“I had a lot of fun.”
Trailing by one point entering the final period, UNCP outscored Fayetteville State 24-16 in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
Graham had a wrap-around assist to Se’Dashia Love under the basket and knocked down a pair of free throws in the final minutes to keep the Broncos at a distance.
“Tee did some good things all game,” said UNCP coach John Haskins. “I think she just has a nice feel for the game. She gets beat up a little bit out there because of her size. … She’s got a good feel for the game.”
Fayetteville State outscored UNCP 21-10 in the third quarter to carry a 49-48 lead into the final period. The Lady Braves answered with a 12-3 spurt to start the quarter, capped with a jumper by Ebone Stevens.
Kasey Drayton knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give UNCP a 10-point cushion with 3:17 left to play. Drayton finished with a game-high eight rebounds to go with her six points.
Alecia Hardy finished with 11 points and three steals. Stevens added nine points for the Lady Braves.
“I told our girls I was proud of them,” Haskins said. “I think we turned it over 10 or 11 times during the third quarter. To get down and then to fight back showed good resilience and poise. I thought it was a good team win. A lot of people came in and contributed.”
The Lady Braves finished with 21 turnovers but scored 31 points off of Fayetteville State’s 28 turnovers. UNCP tallied 15 steals and 17 assists.
“We knew we had to force them into bad passes so we could get into our quick offense,” Graham said. “Just had to keep fighting back. I had to attack and if I could dish it out, I had to dish it out.”
The Lady Braves led by as many as 19 points in the first half, taking a 37-18 lead after back-to-back 3-pointers by Avery Locklear with 2:56 left before the break. Fayetteville State responded with a 10-1 run to trim the lead to 38-28 at the half.
Locklear and freshman Melanie Horne added eight points each for UNCP, which will hit the road for an exhibition tilt with Division I UNC Wilmington on Sunday.
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.