“It was exciting, obviously, and it was a neat environment for the fans, but I think if you were going to write a script for Senior Day, that’s about as good as it gets,” Miller said.
The sold-out crowd at the English E. Jones Center, announced as more than 3,000, watched a game in which UNCP went ahead in the first half, struggled scoring late — falling behind by as many as 10 points early in the second half — but won it late with strong play around the court.
It wasn’t until the final seven minutes that the Braves made a late push that put the game out of reach.
The game had been tied 69-69 on a 3-pointer by USCA’s Ronald Zimmerman with 7:38 left to play, but UNCP used a layup from Blakeney to start a 15-3 run over the next 2:10. The run included post play from Blakeney to draw fouls and throwing down a late dunk, along with the transition play that has led to steals for quick points.
It gave UNCP a lead that never got closer than 10 points for the rest of the game.
It was a stark contrast to the first half, in which UNCP got the lead as high as eight points, only for the Pacers to chip the lead away and take a 40-34 lead at the break. Part of the struggles included an inability to finish shots. UNCP didn’t make a field goal in the final four minutes of the first half, their last coming on a layup by Cooper with 4:11 left that tied it at 30-30.
USCA scored the next eight points, and UNCP didn’t score again until the final minutes, when they got four points from free throws on three trips to the line. The Braves found their offensive groove in the second half, taking an early liking to the 3-point line, where Brackett and Quamain Rose both finished open looks to help narrow the Pacer lead. Rose tied the game 53-53 with 15:55 left on a 3-pointer, ending USCA’s final lead of the game.
“We try to do what we do, which is play inside-out basketball,” Brackett said. “As long as we get down and play defense and rebound and get stops, the offense comes automatically.”
Though the Pacers tied it several times, they never took the lead back, which set the Braves up for their late run to put it away. Miller said the offensive production was partially about the mindset.
“We made a few defensive adjustments, but mostly I think the guys just relaxed and played,” he said. “In the second half, they were just out there hooping, and it was fun to watch.”
Both teams struggled with fouls. Blakeney and Brackett both fouled out for UNCP, and USCA’s Santoine Butler, who had 13 points in the first half, had limited action in the second half before fouling out with 6:26 left to play. USCA also had two intentional fouls and one technical called against them in the second half.
All five starters for UNCP finished with double-digit scoring, led by Blakeney with 21 points and 15 rebounds. Rose finished with 19, including a 3-for-3 night from the 3-point line. Cooper had 17 points, Brandon Winford had 15 and 12 rebounds and Brackett had 11 points. A stat that left Miller pleased was rebounding, with UNCP picking up 51 boards to 34 for USCA, despite being down 20-19 at halftime.
“I think our guys know that even when shots aren’t falling, our defense and our rebounding can still win us games,” he said.