In the battle of the birds, the Braves soared to their most lopsided victory of the basketball season, and were flying high on both sides of the ball, from start to finish in their blowout against the North Georgia Nighthawks on Feb. 11.
After just a night’s rest, the UNCP men’s basketball team took on the Nighthawks after playing Young Harris less than 24 hours prior on Lumbee Guaranty Bank Court. It seemed a good night’s sleep was all it took to revitalize the Braves shooting percentage efficiency.
They shot 73 percent from the field, which was highlighted by their staggering season-high 63 points in the first half alone.
“Back to back games is not always easy, and one of the reasons we did this was to simulate a little bit of what postseason play could be like,” Head coach Ben Miller said. “But I thought the guys responded well, played hard and had a good team effort out there.”
With this win, the black and gold have now extended their current win streak to six as they improve their overall record to 20-4 and their record in the Peach Belt Conference to a division-leading 16-2. The Braves have now won 30 of their last 35 contests, which includes losing just one game over that span as the they boast a 15-16 homecourt record during this impressive run.
The home team converted nine of their first 11 shots to jump out to a quick 13-2 lead within the first four minutes of the contest, which would be a prelude of what was to come in the remainder of the game. In the last nine minutes of the opening period the Braves went on a ferocious 33-5 offensive explosion that was capped off by a Tyrell Kirk three-pointer to close out the half as time expired.
“Coach told us that we should start the game in the first four minutes playing as hard as we could so that’s what we tried to do. We weren’t able to do that Saturday [against Young Harris] so that’s what we tried to come out and do today,” Pruitt said.
UNCP would not take their foot off the gas on offense, nor foot off of the Nighthawks throat defensively in the second half as they poured on nearly 40 more points after halftime. A majority of the Braves’ starters were on the bench in the final two minutes of the game and a rambunctious home crowd were chanting and clamoring
“One more! ONE MORE!!!” Senior Bryson Hall’s layup, with just over a minute left on the clock, not only marked his first bucket of the season, but it put his team over the century mark.
This 101-68 victory over a North Georgia team that seemed to have packed up before they headed to the locker rooms at halftime marked the Braves’ first time eclipsing the 100-point threshold against a conference foe since a 115-92 win over Armstrong in the 2015 season.
“It felt great, just working hard all year as long as these guys are doing good and I do my part, it’s always good to get in and it’s always good to score,” Hall said about his role on the team and notching the to bucket to send his team over 100 points.
Sophomore Akia Pruitt was a force in all facets of the game on the afternoon leading the team in scoring with 22 points, corralling eight rebounds, recording a pair of assists and registering a team-high four blocks.
Redshirt Senior Nigel Grant and junior James Murray-Boyles mirrored each other’s stats by tying for second on the team with 19 points a piece and they each fell one rebound shy of recording double-doubles as they both led the team with nine.
Freshman David Strother from right down the road in Lumberton logged 13 points of his own and led the team in assists in this contest by distributing half a dozen.
“We’ve had some really good teams in the past that may have had a taste of postseason play, but I think these guys want more. They’re hungry and I think it takes that extra effort on the defensive end to give you a chance to play for a really long time,” Miller said.
The players expressed their gratitude for the love, support and admiration that they receive not just during the games, but while going about campus and through the community that fans give them.
They believe that their success on the court can be partly attributed to the cheers and praise that rain down upon them and ring throughout the gymnasium because they truly enjoy the family atmosphere exhibited by both the community and the student body.