After coming up just short of claiming the No.1 seed in the Peach Belt Conference standings against USC Aiken a week prior, the UNCP men’s basketball team faced off with the Patriots of Francis Marion University on Jan. 30 on Lumbee Guaranty Bank Court to jostle for the No.2 seed.
With a tenacious defense against one of the most potent offenses in the conference that forced 15 turnovers, dominated in the paint by out rebounding the Patriots by nearly 20 (50-33) with 36 of those boards came on the defensive end as well as scoring 52 of their points in the paint in route to 91-72 victory.
“They make it tough because if you over help too much they got guys that can shoot it but for the most part we guarded inside out and over the course of the game that prevailed,” said Head Coach Ben Miller.
Although the Braves struggled to sink shots early on in the game they would get into a rhythm and close out the first half on a 19-5 scoring run to take a 38-31 advantage into the locker room. However, the Patriots would not lay down for the majority of the second half because every time it seemed the Black and Gold were running away with the game, the Pats would whittle down the deficit to a single digit margin or even a single possession.
The Braves were able to go on a final scoring run of 15-4 in the final five minutes of play to build their largest lead of the day of 22 points and secure the victory. With the win UNCP improves to 7-1 at home on the season and stay within in striking distance of USC Aiken of the conference lead heading down the stretch.
“You never feel that comfortable just because they can shoot the ball so well. Augusta had them down 14, 15 and they came all the way back and had shots to tie late so just taking care of the ball and attacking that press, finishing plays and making free throws was important,” said Miller.
Four players registered double-digit points for the Black and Gold, lead by redshirt sophomore David Strother who had 18 points and saw two players record double-doubles. Sophomore Tyrell Kirk came in second in both scoring and rebounds with 17 points and 11 boards.
Junior Akia Pruitt recorded his 16 career double-double with a dozen points and a career high 15 rebounds, but more importantly he was able to sketch his name into the program’s record books by becoming just the 36th player in program history to reach 1,000 career points in just his third season on a tip in lay-up in the first minute of the second half.
“I was just trying to play hard and I wasn’t trying to really think about it but my teammates just kept reminding me about it. It was fun to reach that goal and my teammates cheered me on. They knew before the game. They told me they would feed me the ball and try to see if I could get it,” said Pruitt.