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Braves fall in PBC Tourney opening round

By Nick Phillips

March 15, 2012

Photo by Nick Phillips
Braves freshman Griffin Pittman soars towards the hoop for a layup as part of his team-high 14 points in the loss to Montevallo.

The UNCP men's basketball team saw a 15-point first half lead slip away before Montevallo pulled away for a 74-62 victory in the first round of the 2012 PBC Tournament to end the Braves season and close the books on the latest chapter in school history.

The Braves were the East No. 4 seed in the brackets, while Montevallo advanced as the West No. 1 seed.

For the season, the Braves final record will finish at 17-12 overall and 11- 7 in PBC play, including winning 12 games at home.

UNCP fell to 6-16 all-time in PBC Tournament play, including a 5-11 clip in first round contests, a year after their magical tournament run pushed them to the championship game and gave them their first invitation to the NCAA Tournament.

"They had some flurries offensively and we didn't get stops when we needed them," UNCP head coach Ben Miller said after the game.

"There are talented players on both sides. Big players make big plays, and they made a few more than we did," Miller finished.

Montevallo scored the first seven points of the contest before the Braves went on a 30-8 run to take a 30- 15 advantage.

A Montevallo free throw with 4:49 left in the half snapped a scoreless drought of nearly five minutes for Montevallo and marked the front end of a 13-3 run by the Falcons that closed the first stanza.

UNCP would eventually take a 33-29 edge into the intermission.

The Falcons scored nine of the first 11 points in the second half that gave them a 38-35 lead and capped off a 29-11 scoring run that stretched over both halves.

After the teams traded baskets for most of the second half, the Braves got to within six points twice in the last three minutes, but Montevallo used a pair of free throws following a flagrant foul with 50 seconds left to pad its advantage back out to double digits and seal the win.

Montevallo shot 53.5 percent from the floor over-all, including 63.6 percent in the second half, and hit 50.0 percent of its 3-point attempts. The Braves shot 46.2 percent for the game, but connected on just 3-of-14 shots (21.4 percent) from three-point range.

UNCP edged the Falcons on the boards, 30-28, and added 26 points from the bench and also 26 total points off 18 Montevallo turnovers. The Braves turned the ball over 19 times in the game.

"It was pretty much the same hard-fought game it was last time (in Pembroke)," Montevallo head coach Danny Young said.

"I don't know that we've been down 15 points all year long. (UNCP) is a really good team. They play very hard, and they are very well-coached," Young added.

Braves freshman Griffin Pittman led UNCP with 14 points, three rebounds and two assists in one of his highest scoring nights of the season.

Junior Shahmel Brackett was the only other Braves starter in double-digits, finishing with 13 points while adding four rebounds and three steals.

Fellow junior K.J. Cooper tallied 10 points off the bench and passed out five rebounds.

Senior Mike Robinson finished his final collegiate game with nine points and five rebounds, while fellow senior big man Nate Priest concluded his career with seven points and two emphatic, poster dunks.

Marcus Heath contributed just four points, but the senior had a team-high five assists and three rebounds.

Junior George Blakeney and freshman Ben Jacobs both were non-existent, finishing with four points and one point, respectively.

Senior goodbye

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 the Braves finished 18-12, as the 18 victories were the most wins in a single season, in addition to their run in the PBC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament berth.

"It's been great to have the opportunity to see them grow as young men; they are all going to be very successful," Miller said of his senior class.

Miller was quick to remind the room full of press mind the room full of press members that UNCP won only six games that first year.

"They've really changed the face of this program. When we do have the opportunity to cut down some nets, we are going to save every one of those guys a piece, because whatever success we have going forward they are all a huge part of," he said.

As a freshman, Pittman said he looked to the seniors for their leadership.

"The seniors taught me a lot about hard work. They really instilled the work ethic and listening to coach because his methods work," Pittman said.

It was hard for Miller to put into words what his first senior class meant to him.

"Everything from seeing their goofiness on the bus to those guys babysitting my kids. You become a family," Miller said.

"They are a part of this program forever. When you look at modern history of this program, that group of guys is part of the most successful two-year run in the history of this program," Miller finished.
Photo by NIck Phillips
Lady Braves freshman Jazmine Kemp forces up a shot through the USC Aiken defense in UNCP's 54-41 loss on March 3.
Inside PBC play, the women tallied a program best 12 conference wins while going 12-6 overall in PBC play. The men finished with an 11-7 PBC record in 2011-2012.

Inside the English E. Jones Center, both teams held home court advantages, with the men finishing 12-4 at home and the women tallying a 9-3 mark.

The men will return three of their top four scorers next season, including leading scorer Shahmel Brackett, while the ladies return leading scorer Courtney Bolton, who missed the final month due to a concussion.

Anywhere across the country, tournament time is a special tradition on the calendar.

The 2012 PBC Tournament in Columbus, Ga., was no different.

The sounds of competing bands, cheerleaders and fans filled the Frank G. Lumpkin Center on Columbus State's campus.

Popcorn and other smells flowed from the concession stands.

But the real treat everyone came to see was out on the court.

A total of 16 teams - eight men's and eight women's - came to town eying the PBC Champi- onship trophy. Only two teams walked out with one.

Over four days, the gym was filled with sounds of sneakers squeaking, coaches yelling, balls bouncing and players look- ing to perform their bestduring crunch time.

For the UNCP men, the run was short-lived, as the Braves fell in their opening round, quarterfinal matchup to eventual men's champion Montevallo.

The UNCP women advanced past the quarterfinal round for the first time in eight years when they defeated host team Columbus State, but the Lady Braves were knocked out in the semifinal round, losing to the eventual women's champion USC Aiken.

Happiness and heart- break - March basketball's two main ingredients.

The UNCP women's basketball team shot just 34 percent and could not stop a bigger, more physical USC Aiken squad, as the Lady Braves were dispatched in the semifinals of the 2012 PBC Tournament by a 54- 41 score on March 3 in Columbus, Ga.

UNCP saw a number of firsts come out of this season, including 12 wins in PBC action under head coach John Haskins, as well as their first trip to the PBC tournament semifinals under Haskins' guidance.

UNCP finishes the 2011-2012 season with a 16-12 overall record and a 12-6 clip in PBC play.

The team won a PBC Tournament game for the first time since the 2002-03 season and had won eight of their last nine games prior to USC Aiken loss, including a five-game winning streak, the longest winning streak since the 2006-07 season.

In addition to shooting just 34 percent from the floor, the Lady Braves fin- ished only 6-of-24 (25 per- cent) from three-point range.

UNCP's scoring woes can be summed up in one line from the stat sheet. In their quarterfinal win over Columbus State, The Lady Braves had 41 points at halftime on the way to a 66- point night. Against USC Aiken, UNCP had just 19 points at the half.

"I just felt like we were very solid defensively, but the thing that hurt us is that we struggled to score," Haskins said after the game.

"We had a couple of solid shots in the paint, but we couldn't finish on a number of shots," he added.

In her last game donning the Black and Gold, senior Domonique Washington was the only Lady Brave to score in double fig- ures, finishing with her third double-double of the season with 11 points and a game-high 10 rebounds in the loss.

Washington seemed content with her career coming to a close, saying that that it has been a "great two years" at UNCP.

"I can't really explain the feeling; it's crazy. I can't really believe it, but I knew this day would have to come," she said.

Fellow UNCP senior DeDe Cotten notched a nine-point, six-rebound performance in her last game on the floor as well.

A pair of Lady Braves, junior Amelia Partin and freshman Jazmine Kemp, each tallied eight points, while Kemp grabbed three rebounds, two steals and an assist. Partin pulled down three rebounds and had two assists.

The only other Lady Brave to find her way into the scoring column was junior Taylor Gallentine, who scored five points, while also grabbing six rebounds and passing put three assists.

The Lady Braves had to wait nearly five minutes into the contest before they finally collected their first basket, but after the slow start, the first half proved to be a back and forth affair until the final minutes when USC Aiken pushed the halftime advantage to 10.

Both teams struggled from the field in the opening 20 minutes, as the Lady Pacers shot just 27.3 percent but hit 5-of-11 three-point attempts, while the Lady Braves fared slightly better, shooting at a 30.4 clip but connected on only 2-of-10 from long range.

USC Aiken, who never trailed in the contest, finally grabbed their first double-digit lead in the second half's first two minutes before the Lady Braves chipped away at the lead over the next eight minutes.

The Lady Braves connected on a pair of three-pointers from Washington and Cotten to pull the deficit to 40-32 with 11:09 to play, but that would be as close as the Black and Gold would get.

Photo by Nick Phillips
Members of the UNCP men's basketball team, Ben Jacobs (left), Marcus Burnell, James McGhee and Reggie Cobia, along with student manager Blair Broom, look on during the final sec- onds of the Braves' loss to Montevallo in the PBC Tournament quarterfinals.
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Updated: Monday, March 26, 2012
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