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Slow start dooms Braves against Aiken
By Nick Phillips
In a game with Peach Belt Conference tournament implications, an early deficit turned out to be too much for the UNCP men's basketball team to handle on Feb. 16, as the Braves comeback effort fell short in their 69-65 loss to visiting foe USC Aiken.
The loss, UNCP's third consecutive, allowed USC Aiken to jump the Braves in the PBC East Division standings, with UNCP falling to 5th place and currently on the outside looking in at the postseason party with two games to go in the regular season.
USC Aiken jumped out to a 14-4 lead in just under six minutes of action, and would push the lead to as high as 14 at the 8:43 mark in the first half.
The Braves made their move before the half, closing the gap to one at halftime thanks to a 16-3 run.
In the game's second half, the two teams never found themselves separated by more than three points until the final minute of action.
USC Aiken saw its lead go to four at 66-62 with 28 seconds remaining before UNCP junior Marcus Heath knocked down an open three-point shot after his defender slipped, cutting the Braves' deficit to one at 66- 65.
After a foul, Sterling Council's two free throws upped the USC Aiken lead to three again, where the Braves saw two chances miss the mark in the final 17 seconds.
Senior Chris Hargrove led the Braves with 19 points, nine of which came from the free throw line. Hargrove added two assists, three rebounds and three steals to his stat line.
Defensively, the Braves totaled 12 blocked shots, led by sophomore George Blakeney's eight denials. Junior Nate Priest added four blocks of his own.
Blakeney also added 11 rebounds off the glass in the contest.
Beside Blakeney's big night, junior Mike Robinson quietly scored 11 points inside while sophomore Shahmel Brackett had 12 points of his own in the loss.
As a team, the Braves committed a season-low 10 turnovers and also had a decided advantage at the free throw line with a 20-to-8 mark.