FLORENCE, S.C. — His team falling into a hole in the first half and getting beat on the glass is what UNCP men’s basketball coach Ben Miller doesn’t want to have happen, but that ended up being the case in the 96-92 loss at Francis Marion.
UNCP’s (14-7, 7-5 PBC) defense allowed the Patriots to shoot 55 percent in the first half and score 56 points to take a 56-41 lead into halftime, a hole that even a fierce attack in the second half couldn’t overcome. Francis Marion (8-12, 4-8 PBC) also grabbed a 46-41 advantage in rebounding. The result: UNCP dropping its third conference game in a row and poor defense has been the common denominator in the defeats.
“They kicked our rear ends in the first half. They played harder and executed better,” Miller said. “We showed what we are capable of in the second half, but in this league if you spot someone 15 points, it’s tough.”
Along with the defensive effort, Miller was also displeased with the team’s effort, or lack there of, on the boards. Coming into the game the Braves were the top rebounding margin team in the Peach Belt Conference, an area they normally excel at.
“That’s the key indicator of them being more aggressive, assertive and determined, because that’s just effort,” Miller said. “I got two senior guards that got one rebound each. It’s a team effort to rebound and that did not happen tonight.”
Francis Marion’s Kenny Jackson and Warren Specht keyed a 26-10 run in the first half to go up 53-37 at th 2-minute mark after both teams traded baskets early. The run set the tone for the rest of the half with the defensive lapses coming at bad times for the Braves. Jackson scored 11 of his 18 points in the first half, and Specht finished with 22 points after scoring 11 in the opening period.
The UNCP defense stepped up in the second half, forcing 11 turnovers and chipping away at the lead in the second half after its poor defensive effort.
“We told them to play harder and do what we ask you to do,” Miller said.
The Braves chipped away at the lead several times, but Francis Marion had an answer with all-conference guard Detrek Browning. The junior guard scored 18 of his 24 points in the second half to lead Francis Marion in scoring for the night. Every time the Braves cut the lead to under 10 points, Browning came through with a response, like he did with five minutes to go when he hit a 3-pointer and a layup on two straight possessions to make it an 11-point game.
UNCP had one last run to get it to 91-87 with a minute to play, but a steal after a UNCP defensive rebound from the Patriots sealed the win and cut the comeback attempt short.
Akia Pruitt led UNCP with 24 points and 11 rebounds, and James Murray-Boyles added 17 points.
Freshman forward Akia Pruitt had a 24-point, 11-rebound performance at Francis Marion on Monday night in UNCP’s 96-92 defeat.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.