PEMBROKE — With seven players that got at least 20 minutes on Wednesday night, to say that The University of North Carolina at Pembroke men’s basketball team has depth is an understatement.
The Braves went eight-deep into their roster during the 70-54 win in the Peach Belt Conference tournament quarterfinals in the English Jones Center, and coach Ben Miller said that his reserves make the transition seasmless from starters to the bench players, and they came up in big spots to help the Braves secure the victory.
“We’ve settled into a great rotation with guys like Micah (Kinsey) and (James Murray-Boyles) that would be starters any where else and the minutes get fairly evenly distributed,” he said. “But to have that kind of depth, you wear into people.”
UNCP’s (24-5) bench outscored Georgia Southwestern’s (13-14) bench 35-0 in the win that advanced the Braves to the tournament semifinals on Saturday at Clayton State. The reigning tournament champs will take on third-seeded Francis Marion for a spot in the Peach Belt Conference tournament title game.
Heading up the charge of reserve points in the quarterfinal win was Murray-Boyles with 15 points and Kinsey with 12. Kinsey said that despite not starting, he still carries the mentality and energy of a starter when he check into the game.
“Like coach said, we basically have eight starters and I’m coming off the bench thinking like I’m a starter,” he said. “A starter has to do what he’s got to do.”
Kinsey stuffed the stat sheet with five assists, two blocks, two steals and three rebounds, and his scoring and defense came in big spots against the Hurricanes. With the score tight early, the sophomore guard scored six points in a run that made a five-point UNCP margin grow to 10 points with less than nine minutes to go in the first half.
Out of halftime, Georgia Southwestern drew closer to the Braves, that had a 36-22 lead at the break, using a 14-5 run behind the scoring of R.J. Sessions and Hasaan Buggs. UNCP responded behind the play of its reserves to go back up by nine, 46-55, with 9:05 left.
The Hurricanes’ last push cut the Braves’ lead down to 55-50 with 6:15 left after back-to-back layups by Buggs. On the next possession, Kinsey drove the lane and made a layup, came back on the defensive end to block Devin Watson’s jumper and then finished a run-out layup to spark a 13-4 run that lasted to the end of the game.
“There were stretches of that game where I thought they (Georgia Southwestern) had a little more sense of urgency, but I thought as the game went on, especially that second half, the guys cranked up our defense,” Miller said. “They did that even when it wasn’t easy offensively. That’s been a trademark of this team.”
While the reserves gave the Braves a lift, sophomore forward Akia Pruitt continued his elevated play in the Peach Belt Conference tournament, a year after being named tournament MVP during the team’s championship run. He scored 11 of his 15 points in the first half as UNCP took a 36-22 lead into the break, and also pulled down nine rebounds.
“It’s just the PBC tournament. They tell us when we get here that there is going to be no easy game, we’ve just got to play hard,” Pruitt said. “My focus is defense and rebounding and just let it all come to me.”
With Nigel Grant having a quiet night of seven points and nine rebounds, Pruitt’s presence was greatly needed.
“It was a physical game and I think that Akia and our big guys adjusted to that physicality,” Miller said. “Akia played through that, rebounded through a lot of that physicality and just got better and better as the game went on.”
Georgia Southwestern’s Buggs had a game-high 18 points and Sessions added 14 points.
The win caps off a 15-1 home campaign for the Braves.
North Georgia tops Lady Braves to end their season
DAHLONEGA, Ga. — First-seeded and No. 24 North Georgia limited the UNC Pembroke women’s basketball team to its lowest point total of the season and held off the eighth-seeded Braves 58-49 in the quarterfinal round of the Peach Belt Conference (PBC) tournament on Wednesday evening at the UNG Convocation Center.
The Braves campaign comes to a close in the PBC Quarterfinals for a second-consecutive season after making back-to-back appearances in the league tourney for the first time since the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons. PBC regular season champion and No. 1-seed North Georgia advances to the league semifinals where they will take on fifth-seeded Georgia College who was a 62-53 road victor against Flagler on Wednesday.
Senior Nyla Allen paced the Braves with 12 points in her final game in a Black & Gold uniform, while fellow senior Ebone Stevens chipped in 11, including a trio of 3-pointers. Stevens also grabbed a career-high eight rebounds, as did junior Alecia Hardy. Sophomore Avery Locklear chipped in eight points for the Braves, whose previous low point total this season was 50 on a pair of occasions.
Julianne Sutton scored a game-best 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting for the Nighthawks, who racked up eight blocks (four from Sutton). Julie McKie added 12 points and Abbie Franklin chipped in 11, while Deana Blankinship hauled in a team-high eight rebounds.
UNCP outscored North Georgia 15-9 in the third quarter to whittle the Nighthawk lead down to 10 with one quarter to play. The Braves pulled within seven to trail 49-42 with just over five minutes to play in fourth and maintained that deficit until the hosts used a 5-0 run to extend the lead back to 12 with under 3:30 to play. Senior Kasey Drayton buried a 3-pointer with 26 ticks on the clock, but it was too little too late as North Georgia held on for the 58-49 triumph.
It took over two minutes for either team to break onto the scoreboard in the first quarter before a Nighthawk 3-pointer at the 7:53 mark erased the scoreless tie. With North Georgia up 7-5 and just under six minutes to play, UNCP rattled off a 7-0 run to take a 12-7 lead, but the hosts responded with a 14-0 run in the final 3:10 to lead 21-12 after the first. The Braves pulled within seven at the 8:50 mark of the second period and trailed 28-20 with under three minutes to play in the half before the Nighthawks closed the stanza with an 8-0 run to haul a 36-20 lead into the locker rooms.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.