PEMBROKE — Brandon Watts wasn’t in panic mode following UNCP’s loss against Columbus State on Sunday.
The Braves logged their worst shooting performance of the season in the three-point defeat, but the senior guard was adamant about getting his teammates to focus on the next game.
“I just try to explain to everybody that you’re going to have that game throughout the season where everybody looks bad,” Watts said.
UNCP bounced back in a big way on Tuesday in an 83-71 victory over Georgia Southwestern, ripping the nets with a season-best 13 three-pointers to snap a two-game losing streak.
Four players netted two or more shots from behind the arc for the Braves (6-3, 2-1 PBC), who finished with 20 assists on 27 field goals.
Watts scored a game-high 17 points, including four 3-pointers, to lead five UNCP players in double figures. He has now knocked down at least three 3-pointers in three of his past four outings.
“Watching it go in always makes you more confident for the next game,” said Watts, who hit four 3s in a game for the first time since last season.
“When we started making them early it made (Georgia Southwestern) stop doubling the post.”
UNCP shot a season-low 31 percent from the field against Columbus State, including a 4-for-27 mark from 3-point range. The Braves matched that total eight minutes into Tuesday’s contest en route to shooting 48 percent from the field against the Hurricanes (4-3, 0-3).
“I wasn’t disappointed with how we played against Columbus on the defensive end. We just didn’t shoot it well,” said UNCP coach Ben Miller.
“We started out really well defensively, rebounding. (Georgia Southwestern) scored a lot more points in the second half, so I didn’t think our defense was as good. But fortunately, we made enough shots to keep it at a pretty comfortable margin for most of the time. … We showed a little better inside-out balance today. ”
Miller credited Watts and the team for putting in the practice to improve their shooting.
“(Watts has) worked really hard, along with the rest of the guys,” he said. “Our perimeter, those guys not only shot it well, but they handled the ball well.”
Whiteville’s Tyrell Kirk tallied 11 points, including a career-high three 3-pointers. He also matched a career-high with six assists and pulled down four rebounds. Lumberton’s David Strother had 16 points, six rebounds, four assists and a team-best four steals.
James Murray-Boyles tallied 13 points off the bench and Akia Pruitt finished with 11 points for the balanced Braves.
“We can be tough to stop,” Kirk said. “We have to come out with intensity on the defensive end because defense turns into offense. As long as we push the tempo and get open shots, we’ll be good.”
Defensively, the Braves held Georgia Southwestern to a 33.3 percent clip from the floor, including a 6-for-26 mark in the first half.
The solid defensive outings are becoming a trend for Miller’s squad.
“That’s been fairly consistent. I think the vision of this team defensively, and the goal, should be pretty high because with our length and quickness we can cause a lot of problems,” Miller said.
“We’re getting better at changing up our defenses to try and keep teams off balance. Getting into conference play, hopefully we can get an even better feel for our opponents and continue to grow with our team defense.”
The Braves pushed their lead out to 21 points, 50-29, early in the second half and led by as many as 27 points after a 3-pointer from Murray-Boyles at the 5-minute mark. Georgia Southwestern scored 21 of the game’s last 27 points to provide the final tally — but the game’s result was never in doubt.
UNCP led 37-25 at the break and never looked back. Devin Watson scored 16 points to lead three Georgia Southwestern players in double figures.
The Braves will now take a lengthy break before traveling to North Georgia (3-6, 1-2) on Dec. 30. UNCP will return home on Jan. 6 when it takes on Georgia College (5-3, 1-1) at Lumbee Guaranty Bank Court.
With 19 league games remaining, Miller said he wants “the young players to just understand how challenging every game is going to be.”
“Obviously, we want the guys to get home and enjoy that time with their family,” he said. “Our guys are gym rats so I’m sure they’ll be somewhere shooting. We just want to come back with a fresh mindset, and understand the challenges of a 22-game conference schedule. It’s the first time we’ve ever done that.
“It’ll be a great journey. Hopefully, we’ll keep improving. While we do have a couple of experienced seniors, everywhere else we’re still fairly young and growing. It’ll be a fun process with this bunch because they’re a lot of fun to work with.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.