Getting out to shooters remained beneath Miller’s “championship level” interpretation but the Braves managed a 101-95 road victory in the Peach Belt Conference nonetheless, reaching the 20-win plateau for the first time in 22 years and further strengthening an impressive late-season NCAA Tournament resume.
“That team is just really hard to guard,” Miller said after Francis Marion drained 16-of-37 shots from beyond the arc. “We didn’t know whether we should stay in a zone, go man or play straight up. Their record may not show it, but they’re really dangerous and forced us into some tough decisions on defense.”
UNCP (20-8, 13-5) shot a blistering 52.8 percent from the floor for the game with numerous easy buckets in transition and led by 14 with 4:04 remaining before the Patriots (11-14, 6-12) drained a handful of 3-pointers in rapid succession.
Coupled with a few misses at the free-throw line from the Braves down the stretch, Francis Marion’s Dustin Jones brought his team to within one at 96-95 after hitting a contested 27-footer with 28 seconds to play.
Quamain Rose hit two free throws at the other end for the Braves and with the Patriots tossing it around the perimeter for a potential game-tying shot on the ensuing possession, Jones was called for a travel. UNCP’s Brandon Winford converted 1-of-2 freebies on the next trip down and made an uncontested dunk in the waning seconds to seal the Braves’ fifth straight win.
Rose, along with Winford, scored 18 points. He handed out 10 assists — all in the first half — and took Francis Marion's backcourt starters off the dribble several times in crunch time to facilitate UNCP's slash-heavy attack.
"We're still playing as hard as we can and are trying to get better," Rose said. "Nobody is satisfied."
UNCP has hit triple digits three times since Valentine’s Day and is averaging 99.8 points per game over that span.
“We’re nowhere near our peak yet,” said Jihad Wright, a sophomore forward who scored 12 points, his highest total in the last 21 games. “We’ve got to get better on defense and make adjustments during the game, but we’re still playing at a high level.”
In a highly-competitive first half, the Braves took a six-point lead into the locker room after freshman Alex Bradley hit a baseline runner as time expired. Sandwiched between Bradley’s only 3-pointer two possessions prior was a breakaway dunk from Wright off a cross-court feed from Griffin Pittman.
Shahmel Brackett, a Florence, S.C., native who attended Wilson High School, was one of six Braves to finish in double figures with 14 points. Brackett, along with George Blakeney and K.J. Cooper, will be honored prior to Saturday’s home finale on Senior Day against nationally-ranked USC Aiken.
UNCP has already locked in one of the eight spots in next week’s Peach Belt Conference Tournament in Columbus, Ga., and the Braves are currently second in the PBC’s East Division.
UNCP women fall by 3
UNCP's Kamille Horne hit three 3-pointers in the final 2:20 Wednesday night but it wasn't enough for the Lady Braves who dropped a 73-70 decision at Francis Marion.
Trailing by a possession with 4.4 seconds left, UNCP's Jazmine Kemp was called for a block with her team inbounding and trying to go the length of the floor for a potential game-tying shot. Francis Marion (12-13, 6-12) took possession and dribbled it out for the final tally.
The Lady Braves (12-15, 6-12) nearly overcame a 14-point halftime deficit but two points was as close as they would get and that came with 12 seconds remaining following Horne's long-range jumper from the left wing.