Nigel Grant prepares to take a free throw at the line. The Braves went on to win the game 85-65. Photo by Joshua Reed
The Braves of UNCP faced off against the Lakers of Clayton State University on Jan. 20 on Lumbee Guaranty Bank Court in a highly anticipated matchup between the top two seeds in the Peach Belt Conference.
Following a thrilling first half, which featured an astounding 26-point outing from redshirt senior Nigel Grant, the home team still trailed by three going into halftime.
After the intermission, the Braves relied on a lock down defense to shutdown a potent Laker offensive attack and extended their lead by 20 to complete the 85-65 blowout.
“Like every half we try to talk about defense, how we can talk about improvements and these guys did a great job I think of adjusting to their (Clayton’s) shooters,” Head Coach Ben Miller said. “First half they were 7-10 from three and in the second half they only made one, so I thought the guards getting out taking away shots and then the big guys when they switched on to those guards taking away open threes was a huge difference in the game.”
The victory extended the Braves’ longest conference win streak to nine in a row, and it brought the Black and Gold’s overall record on the season to 14-3 and a conference record of 10-1.
UNCP has now been victorious in 24 of their last 28 games dating back to last year’s conference championship season, and they now boast an astonishing 12-1 record at home in their last 13 matchups.
“We know we got a target on our backs, so we just set in stone that we want to stay number one and we’re going to keep doing that for the rest of the season,” Grant said about blowing out the second ranked team in the conference.
Grant nailed his first nine attempts from the field and finished his fantastic performance with a season and career high 28-points as well as recording his sixth double-double of the season by reeling in a team high 10 rebounds.
Sophomore Akia Pruitt and Freshman Tyrell Kirk tied for second in scoring with 14 points a piece, a majority of which came in the second half offensive onslaught.
Pruitt recorded 13 second-half points and led the team in blocks with four, and Kirk put up 11 points in the second half, shooting 4-6 from the perimeter. Junior James Murray-Boyles was the fourth Brave to record double digit points with 13, going 5-8 from the field and 3-5 at the free throw line.
“Second half we just shared the ball and got open looks, didn’t rush, kept it patient and we got our shots,” Kirk said about the teams second half offensive surge.
When asked about how he felt about getting off to his red-hot start early on in the game Nigel said he just listened to the coaches and went out and played his game to the best of his abilities.
“We’ve been going at a lot of competition this past couple of weeks,” Grant said. “we just knew we had to come in here and give it our all and that’s what everybody did.”
The Braves have now won 13 games this season after trailing at one point during the contest. Coach Miller mentioned that persistence is one of the team’s core values that the seniors on the team added to their list coming into the season.
Grant echoed that sentiment because he looks back to last season when the team lost three straight, but then went on a run and won the conference tournament by overcoming a great deal of adversity.
“That’s one thing that I kind of reminded these guys at half time. That came from them, they came up with perseverance is a team core value where there’s going to be some bumps in the road,” Miller said. “Just having that toughness and perseverance to have that next play mentality and just keep grinding, keep pounding that rock.”