And while Division II basketball’s leading scorer put on a show, Miller’s senior class preferred a win as consolation, providing their own dominance offensively during an 83-78 victory.
George Blakeney and Shahmel Brackett combined for 36 of UNCP’s final 45 second-half points as the Braves improved to 14-7 overall, 7-4 in the PBC. Brandon Winford nailed four free throws for UNCP in the last 90 seconds to turn away Miller’s career-high 41 points, the most by an Armstrong Atlantic player since 1991.
“We’re playing with a lot of determination and a will to win and when we do that, we’re hard to stop,” Blakeney said. “We’re believing in each other to get it done. That’s what good teams do.”
The Braves (14-7, 7-4) led by as many as 12 in the second half before their division rivals cut into the deficit behind Miller and Antroine Williford. Miller gave the Pirates a lead four different times on long distance jumpers over the final seven minutes of the game, but his team couldn’t keep UNCP away from the charity stripe nor hold Brackett at bay from the perimeter.
“Miller is a heck of a scorer and he’s really improved since last season,” Ben Miller said. “I could tell he was a good player last year, but he was only at 14 points per game. He’s averaging 25-plus now, even more after tonight.”
Brackett finished with 28 points — 21 in the second half — followed by a 25-point, 13-rebound effort from Blakeney. K.J. Cooper pulled down nine rebounds and handed out five assists without a turnover. The collective effort from the Braves’ elders impressed Miller.
“What can you say, this guys have been here the longest and know how to win,” he said. “They’ve helped changed the culture of this program and fans should really be excited for the mark they have made. I can’t imagine how emotional it’s going to be for me over these last five home games.”
UNCP goes for its fifth win in six games Thursday night against nearby Francis Marion. Winning out at home and grabbing out at least one road win over three remaining contests would put the Braves in the PBC tournament, but more importantly, make UNCP attractive to the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
“I think we can take things to another level with our home crowd Thursday night,” Miller said. “It would be pretty neat to see a sell-out here. The fans have been great all season and I wouldn’t expect anything less this week.”