The first five minutes of Saturday’s game against Montevallo wasn’t an ideal start for junior guard Shahmel Brackett.
Playing with a heavy heart in memory of former coach and mentor Michael Hawkins, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s leading scorer and preseason All-American was admittedly nervous just four points shy of 1,000.
“It was on my mind,” Brackett said. “I wanted to dedicate the first five points I scored to coach Hawkins.”
Brackett caught fire after a slow start, becoming the school’s 28th member of the elite fraternity with 7:42 left in the first half, but it wasn’t enough as the Braves fell 74-69 on a somber afternoon for the Florence, S.C. native.
Hawkins, an influential figure at the Levy Park Youth Activity Center, was shot and killed in his South Carolina home on New Year’s Day during a botched robbery attempt. Brackett missed Hawkins’ funeral in his hometown Saturday afternoon due to a scheduling conflict.
“They changed the time at the last minute so I couldn’t go,” Brackett said after scoring 20 points. “This game’s for coach Hawkins.”
The loss was UNCP’s third to Montevallo (12-2, 4-0) in three all-time meetings and snapped a four-game winning streak. The Braves were off to a record 4-0 start in conference play and with a win, could have matched last season’s best 15-game start in school history.
In a physical contest between PBC East and West division leaders, the final 9:46 featured five lead changes, the final coming on Marvin Fitzgerald’s layup with 2:52 remaining that put the Falcons ahead 61-60.
On Montevallo’s next possession after a turnover, Jonas Brown hit a fallaway 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down that gave the Falcons a four-point cushion. D.J. Rivera, the PBC’s leading scorer at 25.1 points per game, delivered the dagger with 1:05 to play with a jumper five feet beyond the arc.
Brown finished with a game-high 29 points followed by Rivera’s 17-point effort.
Following a 15-point win at Columbus State Saturday, USC Aiken moved into first place in the PBC East. The Pacers and Braves battle Jan. 18 in Pembroke.
Lady Braves improve to 5-8
UNCP’s womens team picked up their second league win of the season Saturday with a 58-49 victory over Montevallo.
The Braves held the Falcons to a 31.6-percent shooting clip and outscored Montevallo 37-26 in the second half. Domonique Washington led UNCP with 18 points followed by a 14-point effort from Amelia Partin and 12 from Courtney Bolton.
“It is good to get back into the win column,” said UNCP head coach John Haskins. “I told our girls in the locker room after the game that if we score on a consistent basis in terms of execution and finishing plays, I think we could be a good team because our defense is good enough.”
The Braves snapped a four-game losing skid with the victory. UNCP travels to North Georgia on Jan. 12.
Reach Staff writer Brad Crawford at 910-272-6119 or at firstname.lastname@example.org