The Braves’ fifth-year coach, a stickler for defense and determination, was disgusted by his team’s lethargic, uninspired play and drove home his point with a few outbursts louder than most. Whatever was said between decapitating a clipboard and the second-half layup lines worked beautifully as the Braves fought back from a 12-point deficit at intermission to capture a rare overtime win over the Trojans.
UNCP’s 96-89 victory snapped a seven-game skid against Mount Olive dating back to 1996 and marked the team’s fifth straight win entering Saturday’s Peach Belt Conference opener at USC Aiken.
“I questioned a lot about our team … our fight and our heart,” Miller said. “I wasn’t pleased with our energy and I let the guys know it.”
For all of the first half, the Braves seemed content with losing for the fourth time in nine games to start the season with sagging perimeter and transition defense. Execution lacked, guard play was noticeably out-of-sync and too many times off-balance jumpers were forced in desperation with the shot clock winding down.
“(Mount Olive) did a good job of getting us away from what we do best,” said UNCP’s Shahmel Brackett, who was battling the flu. “Coach challenged us at halftime to step up to the plate and be leaders and I took it personal.”
After going scoreless in the first 20 minutes and seeing most of his playing time go to true freshman Alex Bradley, Brackett rebounded upon his return to the floor with a 10-point spurt to pull the Braves within three at 57-54 midway through the second half.
After the deficit swelled to 10 with six minutes remaining, UNCP responded at the defensive end and echoed Miller’s halftime call to arms underneath the basket. The Braves allowed a single field goal over the final five minutes and forced overtime after freshman Quamain Rose’s floater knotted the score at 77 with 13 seconds left.
Rose’s heads-up shot after a Brackett misfire sent what was left on campus following final exams into a frenzy.
“I just try to take advantage of every chance I get,” Rose said after pouring in a game-high 26 points. “It means a lot to know the coaches believe in me.
Exhausted after letting a win slip from its grasp, Mount Olive appeared gassed in the extra session. The Braves scored on their first four trips down the floor and led throughout overtime with a renewed focus on execution at both ends.
“We were just determined to get stops and play well within our system,” Brackett said. “We knew what we’re capable of, just had to go out and do it.”
UNCP assistant coach Ben Thompson called it a “grown man” win and placed the emphasis on the play of UNCP’s two senior guards after veteran center George Blakeney missed most of the second half with a laceration to his lip. Brackett finished with 19 points and drew a key charge against Mount Olive’s Dory Hines with five seconds left that nullified the Trojans’ shot at winning the game in regulation.
Brackett’s backcourt mate, K.J. Cooper, pitched in with 11 points and hit 5-of-7 shots from the floor in 32 minutes. It appeared, at least for the final 15 or so minutes of game action, Miller found his ideal three-guard lineup of Brackett, Cooper and Rose as the Braves head into PBC competition.
“I think this was a great game for our team to come back and get a big win,” Miller said. “Hopefully, we can take some of this momentum to Aiken with us this weekend.”