PEMBROKE — Forced into playing a slower pace than it is used to and playing two overtime with several players being in foul trouble, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke men’s basketball coach Ben Miller saw grit from his team that was a carryover from its three-game win streak entering Saturday’s home game against Georgia College.
“The last two games they weren’t pretty games, but the guys showed a lot of guts to find a way to win,” he said. “When you can shoot it not your best and have things not go your way and still win, it makes you feel good about the toughness of the team.”
Through the adversity, the Braves stretched their streak to four games by pulling out a 82-75 win double overtime, led by two upperclassmen’s play in the clutch to hold off the Bobcats in Peach Belt Conference play.
Senior Brandon Watts and junior James Murray Boyles both were hit with foul trouble in the first half and showed the grit that Miller sees in his team. Each shined in the two overtime periods with Murray-Boyles scoring eight points in the first overtime and Watts hit a 3-pointer and coming up with defensive plays to spark a 12-point second overtime for the Braves. Each had 18 points, and Murray-Boyles had a double-double with 10 rebounds to lead UNCP’s (9-3, 5-1 PBC) bench scoring.
After sitting down late in the first half with three fouls and nine points, the junior went scoreless the rest of regulation, but came back in overtime with a different mentality.
“I was trying to lock back in because we thought we had got it sealed, but we couldn’t pull it through,” Murray-Boyles said. “I was trying to focus in on defense because I knew our offense would come eventually.”
His 3-pointer with 2:06 left in the first overtime gave the Braves a six-point lead. Georgia College (7-5, 3-3 PBC) then used the scoring of Jordan Thomas to tie the game up and force a second overtime.
Thomas scored 18 points for the Bobcats, his play late kept the Bobcats hopes alive. After being held scoreless for much of the second half, his 3-pointer at the buzzer from straight away sent the game to overtime with the score tied at 61 for his only scoring of the second half.
The game-tying shot followed Akia Pruitt’s slam dunk with five seconds left that he converted into a three-point play after the Braves quickly broke the Georgia College press, to put UNCP up 61-58.
When the Braves’ leading scorer and second-leading rebounder Nigel Grant fouled out with less than four minutes to go, his fellow senior captain, Watts, led the team over the final minutes into the overtimes. Even with a main post presence out, Watts didn’t feel anything extra for him to do other than lead. He finished playing 47 of the 50 minutes of the contest.
“Even though Nigel fouled out, it’s not like I had to take anything and put it on myself because we still have J.B. (Murray-Boyles) and Akia our leading rebounder,” Watts said. “It wasn’t any weight I put upon myself, but it is more of a team effort because it is hard to play without Nigel.”
With Grant out of the paint, Pruitt took over and finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds for his first double-double since the Mount Olive game earlier in the season. Eight points and six rebounds came in the second half. Also adding double-digit scoring nights were Grant with 13 points and David Strother with 11 points.
“We talked about it at halftime how it was a grind-it-out game, not an up-and-down game and they are good at what they do,” Miller said. “They pack in the defense so you aren’t going to get anything easy in the paint. Fortunately, we made a few more plays than they did.”
Leading Georgia College on offense was Isaac Thomas with 23 points.
The Braves complete the second game of their two-game home stand against Augusta on Wednesday night with the women’s game tipping off at 5:30 p.m. Augusta finds itself half a game behind the Braves who are tied with Clayton State atop the Peach Belt Standings.
Georgia College comes back to top Lady Braves in OT
Georgia College senior guard Brianna Davis went 3-for-6 from behind the arc on Saturday on the road at UNCP, but her three shots from long range came at critical junctures.
Two of the three came in the final minute of regulation to tie the game for the Lady Bobcats and the third helped fuel their offense in overtime in a 66-65 Peach Belt win.
“There at the end of regulation and overtime we had a couple breakdowns where we left the 3-point shooter,” UNCP women’s coach John Haskins said. “It was a couple breakdowns there, but if we make some shots we win that game by 10 points.”
In the extra period, Georgia College (7-5, 4-2 PBC) used a 9-5 run to go up 64-60 with 1:28 left following a Davis 3-pointer. A UNCP (3-7, 1-5 PBC) spurt followed to give it a 65-64 lead after a Hardy steal and score with 23 seconds left.
Two free throws from Ta’Asia Wright gave the Lady Bobcats the lead with 12 seconds left, and UNCP was unable to hit from 3-point range to win it.
In the game, UNCP went 2-for-26 from behind the arc, the lowest percentage of the year for the Lady Braves. Despite the poor shooting night, it was a case of the ball failing to find the bottom of the net for UNCP that had good looks in the contest.
“The bottom line is when people zone you, you’ve got to make some perimeter shots,” Haskins said.
Out of halftime, UNCP used a 10-0 run to take the lead behind six points from Hardy to go up 38-31. The start of that run came with the Lady Braves’ ability to get looks on the interior against the Lady Bobcats’ zone.
“I told them to be a little more aggressive offensively,” Haskins said. “Then we jumped out and started attacking in the second half.”
Leading Georgia College in scoring was Sydney Cleveland with 19 points, while Alyah McGriff had 16 and Davis had 11.
UNCP’s Tee Graham had 17 points with 10 coming in the second half and Hardy adding 15 points.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.