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Senior class grabs final home win

By Nick Phillips

February 23, 2012

Photo by NIck Phillips
UNCP senior Mike Robinson soars towards the hoop before slamming home a dunk in the Braves' 76-71 home win over Flagler Feb. 19 on Senior Day. Robinson led the Braves with a team-high 13 points in his final game inside the English E, Jones Center.

The four-member senior class for the UNCP men's basketball team ended their careers inside the English E. Jones Center in winning fashion Feb. 19, as they defeated visiting Flagler 76-71 in Peach Belt Conference action.

Seniors Marcus Heath, Nate Priest, Mike Robinson and Miguel Starkey were all honored in a pregame ceremony before stealing the show on the court in the win.

Priest and Robinson led the charge, as Robinson finished with a team-high 13 points as he added four rebounds and an assist, while Priest tallied 12 points, six rebounds and a game-high three blocked shots.

Heath notched nine points while grabbing five rebounds, passing out six assists and nabbing three steals, and Starkey tallied three points and a rebound.

A trio of juniors filled in the UNCP stat sheet from there, as Shahmel Brackett and K.J. Cooper each finished with 11 points while George Blakeney finished with 10.

UNCP shot 44.4 percent from the floor in the game, while knocking home seven three-point baskets to shoot at a 35 percent clip from beyond the arc.

Flagler finished the afternoon shooting at a similar rate, shooting 44.4 percent from the floor and hitting seven three-point shots of their own for a 30.4 percent clip.

Both teams shot well from the free throw line, with UNCP shooting 72.2 percent and Flagler an even 75 percent.

The Braves came out donning their all-black uniforms, usually reserved for road games, at the choosing of the senior class, and shot lights-out in the opening minutes.

UNCP led by as many as 15 points thanks to a 13- 0 early run before Flagler slowly worked themselves back into the game and the teams took a 39-39 tie into the half.

Flagler took their first lead of the game on a three-pointer with 16:21 to go before pushing their advantage to as much as five points before Priest threw home a dunk that sent the Braves on a 7-0 scoring run to give the Black and Gold a 61-54 lead with 9:53 remaining.

After seeing the visitors pull back to within two points, the Braves ran off a 9-2 scoring advantage to give them the lead for good.

A Flagler layup cut the UNCP lead back to three with 2:25 to go, but Flagler went on to have two turnovers and go 0-for-2 from the floor over the final two minutes.

Ante Gospic tallied a game-high 20 points for Flagler, who also got 16 points from Addison Smith and 14 from Matt Clark. Chad July scored 10 points for the visitors in the loss as well.

Senior saviors

Photo by NIck Phillips
The Braves' four member senior class, from left, Marcus Heath, Nate Priest, Mike Robinson and Miguel Starkey, finish their home careers with a win over Flagler on Feb. 19..
UNCP's four seniors may have finished up their home careers, but unlike year's past, expectations are that this season still has a few more miles to travel.

Heath, Priest and Robinson walked onto campus at the same time as then-new head coach Ben Miller and have been a part of turning around the program and changing the mentality.

In Miller's first season, when this year's senior class were freshmen, the Braves struggled to a 6-21 record.

The 2009-2010 season saw the Black and Gold emerge with a 9-18 final record before taking off last season.

Last season was one that saw many firsts, as the Braves finished 18-12 over-all and 9-9 in PBC play. The 18 victories were the most wins in a single season, while the Black and Gold went on a magical run through the PBC Tournament and advanced to their first PBC Tournament Championship game before falling to Augusta State.

The run through the conference tournament pushed the Braves up the regional rankings and gave them their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament, where they again fell to Augusta State.

This year's senior class of Heath, Priest, Robinson and Starkey played a huge role in last season's successful campaign, while pushing this current season to be better.

With one final regular season game to play, at Lander on Feb. 25, this year's squad has amassed a 17-10 record overall, with an 11-6 record in PBC play and a 12-4 clip on their home floor inside the English E. Jones Center.

The 11 PBC wins mark the most in school history and the 12 home victories also set a new high mark.

While there will be no more home victories in 2011-2012, the Braves and this season's crop of seniors can raise the bar for most victories in a season, as they will have at least one game in the PBC Tournament after the regular season finale to try and better last season's mark of 18.

One thing is for sure.

Heath, Priest, Robinson and Starkey would like nothing better than to leave campus after helping the Braves to their first PBC Tournament Championship and a few wins in the NCAA Tournament before they take off the Black and Gold for the final time.

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Updated: Saturday, March 24, 2012
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