PEMBROKE — The stakes were high for The University of North Carolina at Pembroke men’s basketball team on Monday in one of its last non-conference games.
The Thanksgiving break saved the team from a 7 a.m. practice after Barton out-rebounded the Braves six days prior to its meeting with Mount Olive, so the new parameters were set.
“They got a hall pass because of the holiday,” UNCP coach Ben Miller said. “So it was double or nothing this game.”
UNCP made sure it didn’t have an early practice today with its 90-72 win over the Trojans, using a 53-28 rebound margin to fuel a powerful second half.
Leading the way on the glass for UNCP (4-1) was sophomore big man Akia Pruitt, who tallied his second double-double of the season with his 20-point, 14-rebound performance. He scored 12 points after halftime to guide the Braves through the second half that started out rough.
Through the rough start in the second frame, where UNCP put some space between itself and Mount Olive (3-2), both teams combined to shoot 4-for-21 from the field for the first six minutes. Over the final 10 minutes of the game is when Pruitt shined up against the Trojan’s frontline, scoring all 12 points in that time frame.
“We knew they liked to trap a lot so they were going to be spread out. So, they told us to attack the paint and go for the offensive and defensive rebounds,” Pruitt said.
During that final 10-minute stretch, the UNCP lead grew from 12 points to as much as 22.
Also assisting Pruitt in the second half was senior Brandon Watts as he finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds for his first double-double of the season.
UNCP won its ninth straight home non-conference matchup in a convincing victory that didn’t seem like it would get to a 20-point lead in the first half. The Braves took a 47-40 lead into halftime, a lead that could’ve been stretched out wider heading into the break, but they turned the ball over 11 times in that period.
Six of the 11 turnovers in the first half came from freshman guards David Strother and Tyrell Kirk, after both combined for two turnovers in the win over Barton.
“I think guys just settled down a little bit,” Miller said. “You’ve got to stay aggressive against the press. If you’re not attacking and being aggressive then we are not making them pay. That’s going to cause some turnovers, but to have 16 turnovers against that team isn’t too bad.”
Nigel Grant added 17 points and James Murray-Boyles had 14 for the Braves. Mount Olive’s Tayon Gleaves had 17 points to lead his team.
UNCP jumps into Peach Belt Conference play on Saturday as it travels to Young Harris for a doubleheader with the women’s team that starts at 1:30 p.m.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.