FAYETTEVILLE — Alex Bradley scraped the floor with three fingers following his fourth 3-pointer of the second half Thursday at Fayetteville State, mimicking a gesture reserved for Houston Rockets bearded guard James Harden.
After finishing two points shy of tying his career high with 18 during a homecoming of sorts on the road, the 5-foot-7 sophomore was allowed some wiggle room for flair in front of family, friends and newly-acquainted frat brothers.
“I’ve seen Harden do it,” said Bradley, who shaved his head this week along with teammates James McGhee after crossing Kappa Alpha Psi. “And he’s one of my favorites.”
The Braves were trigger-happy throughout from outside the paint and were able to withstand a late Fayetteville State rally to win their sixth consecutive game to start the season, 97-91.
The victory marked Bradley’s first trip to Fayetteville since he led Cumberland County in scoring as a senior at Pine Forest High in 2011. A reserve guard as a freshman, Bradley’s production has risen this season at UNCP with more minutes and a green light from the perimeter.
“Everybody around here was telling me they were going to come watch me play tonight,” Bradley said. “The game meant a lot to me.”
The Braves fought back from a first-half deficit to take complete control after intermission, pulling ahead by 16 points with 4:51 remaining following Griffin Pittman’s 3-pointer from the left wing. That’s when the Broncos fought back, making UNCP sweat at 93-89 with 23 seconds left before Quamain Rose’s steal near midcourt sealed the victory.
Five players scored in double figures for the Braves including Rose with a team-high 23 on an 8-for-25 night from the floor, but coach Ben Miller was unhappy with his team’s shot selection down the stretch and lackadaisical defense with a sizable lead.
UNCP made 11 of a season-high 33 shots from beyond the arc. Eight of those makes came in the second half to offset the Broncos’ 61-point outburst.
“I trust this bunch as much as any group we’ve had, but we need to learn when to take the peddle off the gas,” Miller said. “We want to stay aggressive, but we also want to understand situations. Fortunately, we can learn some lessons after a win.
“Give them credit. There’s no quit in Fayetteville State.”
The Braves overcame early struggles with transition defense and the Broncos’ tempo in the first half with the help of freshman guard Keysheen Hinton.
Relatively quiet his first five games, Hinton’s college basketball arrival moment came midway through the opening stanza when he drained his first career 3-pointer off a feed from Ben Jacobs and followed it up with a breakaway dunk on the ensuing possession.
Hinton’s slam pulled his team within a point. UNCP would take the lead for good two minutes later.
“Seeing my first shot go in gave me a confidence boost,” Hinston said after finishing with 16 points. “It helped me stay aggressive throughout the game.”
Coming off a career-best 30-point performance in last weekend’s victory over Belmont Abbey, Pittman finished with 17 points including an 8-of-10 effort from the charity stripe. He says the Braves must get better on defense to continue their current six-game unbeaten streak — the most wins to start a season since 1999.
“We like going up and down the court, every team in America does, but we’ve got to keep guys in front of us,” Pittman said. “Guys are beating us off the bounce too easily. We’re allowing too much catch-and-shoot plays to other guards. Part of it is getting use to officials and how they’re calling the game, but the other half is us having to learn how to adjust.”
Reach staff writer Brad Crawford at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @MrPalmettoSDS.
UNCP 97, FSU 91
UNCP 40 57 — 97
FSU 30 61 — 91
UNC Pembroke — Quamain Rose 23, Alex Bradley 18, Griffin Pittman 17, Keysheen Hinton 16, Ben Jacobs 13, Winford 6, Kordenbrock 2, Wright 2.
Fayetteville State — Tyrrel Tate 30, Josh Dawson 14, Travis Marcus 11, Anthony Shelton 11, Showers 8, Haggie 6, Craft 6, Lane 4, Murray 1.
3-Point Goals — UNCP: Bradley 6, Rose 3, Hinton, Pittman. FSU: Tate 6, Shelton 3, Showers, Marcus.
Fouled Out — FSU: Tate.
Technicals — FSU: Lane.
Records — UNCP 6-0; FSU 3-3.