The UNCP men’s basketball team’s season came to an abrupt end in the semifinal round of the Southeast Regional tournament.
The Braves fell to the Royals of Queens University on March 11 in their second and final game at the B. Frank “Tex” Turner Arena in Harrogate, Tenn. With the defeat, the Braves’ historic season came to a premature conclusion.
The Black and Gold finished the 2017- 2018 campaign with an overall record of 27-6, matching a program record for total amount of wins in a single season. In a sloppy first half of play for both teams, there were a combined 23 turnovers and a dismal 34.5 shooting percentage from the field.
The Royals managed to establish a lead and built a 10-point advantage twice. The Braves brought the contest to within five as they went into the intermission down 30-25.
“Our defense gave us a chance, but they were probably as good as we’ve seen at pressuring the ball,” head coach Ben Miller said. “Usually that’s what we kind of do to people, but they put it right back on us.”
“We got a lot of good shots, but we rushed a lot,” he said. The Black and Gold continued to trim the deficit down to just a single point within the first two minutes of the second half.
Queens responded with a 12-3 scoring run over the next four minutes to amass yet another double-digit lead. The Royals led by as many as 14 on their way to a 75-63 victory.
The Braves struggled sinking their shots throughout the contest against the Royals after a proficient night of shooting the day before against Francis Marion. The Braves suffered a 12-minute scoring drought in the first half, in which they shot 3-18 from the field, and also nine of their final 10 attempts to secure their fate.
In addition, the Black and Gold were uncharacteristically venerable around the glass. The team allowed Queens to score 34 points in the paint in this outing.
“We had an off night offensively, but you have to give [Queens] a lot of credit for the pressure they put on us, beating us up,” Miller said. “I told the guys, I never have the right words, especially for those seniors who don’t get to keep playing.”
“This is the most fun I’ve had ever coaching a team and when the dust settles, and we look back, we’ll celebrate this season and the history that those seniors and this team made,” he said.
Despite the team’s overall shooting struggles, senior Brandon Watts had his second-best scoring performance of the season in his final game as a Brave. He had a game high 22 points, in which he went an impressive 4-8 from the perimeter and sank all six of his free throw attempts.
“The great thing about Brandon is that he contributes so many ways defensively, rebounding, his effort and hustle,” Miller said. “He’s just a winner and he accomplished things in his career that had never been done.”
Senior Nigel Grant and freshman David Strother both tied for second in scoring in the team’s final game with 10 points each. Junior James Murray-Boyles fell one point shy of a double-double, but still managed to lead the team in total rebounds with eight.
“Nigel had a tough night,” the head coach said. “Getting the ball in the basket was a little sped up, but he’s just a warrior in he paint and I just enjoyed those couple years I got to coach him as well.” “
"Then Bryson was kind of the silent leader, didn’t get to play but we’ll really miss him and Desmond who wasn’t able to make this trip but was also part of our scout team, those guys were tremendous senior leaders as well,” Miller said.
When asked about what he will remember and revere most about coaching this year’s historic team, Miller believed that his team built off of last year’s success and used the desire to top their previous accomplishments as a catalyst during the offseason, to go even further this season.
“They really bought into the defensive end maybe more so than any team we’ve had,” he said. “We’ve had some good defensive teams, this team was probably the best we’ve had and the other thing to is as much fun as they are to coach, they’re great people and have bright futures.”