PEMBROKE — The University of North Carolina at Pembroke had six scorers in double figures to hold off Barton in its 94-88 home win on Tuesday — and one of those was freshman Tyrell Kirk.
The Whiteville native scored a career-high 15 points in his first collegiate start to help the Braves as their 18-point second-half lead was trimmed down to as low as two in the final period before pulling away late. He also was one of three ballhandlers that had a combined three turnovers in the game to keep the offense flowing.
“I just went out there and they found me at the right moment at the right time. I just get some shots up every day and it has helped me a lot,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been doing my whole life is taking care of the ball. I did it in high school and I’m just thinking this is going to help me a lot.”
Kirk and senior Nigel Grant scored 10 points each in the second half of the win, which was the first game since taking its first loss of the year to Wingate last Wednesday.
Barton (2-4) used a second half where it out-rebounded UNCP (3-1) 27-14, and had 13 offensive rebounds for 13 second-chance points in the final 20 minutes to fight back.
“A lot of that started when we were giving up penetration,” UNCP coach Ben Miller said. “Defensively we had some really good stretches and then some times where communication broke down and we gave up penetration. Any time you give up that penetration, guys have got to come over and they are out of position to block out.”
Bobby Stenborg, Jeff Gordon and Zach Grant led the Bulldogs back, cutting the lead to three points in less than nine minutes. Stenborg scored 16 of his 18 in the second half and Gordon finished with 20 for Barton.
With the game close, the experience of Grant and fellow senior Brandon Watts took over for scores to keep the lead in UNCP’s favor. His layup with 5 minutes left took the lead out to 10 points.
“I felt like I had to come in and be calm and poised to execute the offense and finish the play,” Grant said. “They (the freshmen) are adapting to what is going on at the college level.”
In the first half, the Braves built up a double-digit lead thanks to the scoring of Watts and its prowess on the boards with a 12-2 margin in second-chance points. Watts entered the game averaging less than nine points per game, and surpassed that with 10 in the first period.
Watts finished with 15 points, a season-high for him.
“We’ve asked Brandon Watts to do a lot early in the season. While these guys were learning, he was taking over the play-calling and point guard responsibilities,” Miller said. “As they’re getting more comfortable, we can slide him back into a more natural position. He’ll shoot it better and he’s staying aggressive.”
The Braves also made the most of 10 Barton turnovers and exchanged it for 17 points, many on fast break opportunities.
David Strother added 15 for the Braves, along with Akia Pruit’s 12 points.
UNCP will take the Thanksgiving break and return to take on Mount Olive on Monday at home for a 7 p.m. tipoff.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.