PEMBROKE — The University of North Carolina at Pembroke men’s basketball team has made the NCAA tournament for back-to-back season, a first for the program as it embarks to the postseason for the fifth time in the last eight years.
The Braves are the No. 3-seed in the Southeast regional that will be hosted at top seed Lincoln Memorial’s Frank “Tex” Turner Arena starting Saturday. UNCP takes on fellow Peach Belt Conference member and sixth seed Francis Marion at noon on Saturday in the first round for a fourth meeting on the season.
“It’s been a lot of fun in the regular season,” UNCP coach Ben Miller said. “To top that off with a tournament championship in the Peach Belt at Clayton State was special. I love this team. It’s exciting they have a chance to keep playing.”
This is the second time the Braves will travel to Harrogate, Tenn., the site of their only NCAA tournament win in 2015 when it topped Columbus State.
“I thought our veterans were really strong throughout (the season),” Miller said. “The young guys, they’ve really gotten better and better throughout. Having two freshman guards starting for us and playing how they have, and Micah’s a sophomore coming off the bench, they’ve exceeded expectations.”
The Patriots finished third in the Peach Belt Conference. UNCP has won two of the three meetings this season between the two teams, most recently on Saturday in the conference tournament semifinals when the Braves topped Francis Marion, 94-75.
Because the teams are so familiar with each other, Miller said there won’t be much trickery in the gameplan when the Braves and Patriots face off on Saturday.
“No secrets. We just have to go out and play,” Miller said.
Clayton State is a No. 4-seed in the region as the other representative in the NCAA tournament for the Peach Belt Conference. The Lakers take on Carson-Newman at 8 p.m. on Saturday.
The winner between the Braves and Patriots takes on either No. 2 Queens or No. 7 Lees-McRae in the regional semifinals.
No. 1 Lincoln Memorial opens regional play against King at 5:30.
Peach Belt Conference tournament MVP Nigel Grant and the UNCP men’s basketball team will head back to the NCAA tournament for the second straight year this weekend.