Jan. 14—PEMBROKE — The first half of Thursday's game against visiting Barton wasn't The University of North Carolina at Pembroke men's basketball team's best, and they trailed by two at the break.
But the Braves started the second half with a big run, which turned out to be the difference in a 97-90 win.
"We didn't execute the game plan in the first half, so I told the guys at halftime it's not a situation where we really needed to change anything other than Barton played harder than us, and we were going up not very strong to the basket," UNCP coach Drew Richards said. "There wasn't a big adjustment; it was basically just do what we told you to do at the start of the game, and we started doing that better in the second half, which helped us get the lead back."
UNCP (13-1, 10-1 Conference Carolinas) trailed 45-43 at intermission, and a Malik Bryant layup on the second half's first possession gave Barton (4-8, 2-6 CC) a 47-43 lead. The Braves then went on a 15-2 run to take a 58-49 lead with 16:23 to go. Tyrell Kirk scored seven points during the run as part of his 22-point, six-assist performance.
"I started off slow, and it's not all about that, but my teammates found me and I had to get some energy going because we were down and everybody was blaming each other," Kirk said. "So we turned it around and I brought some energy."
"We definitely have had a tale of two halves sometime with this team," Richards said. "I don't think it should take a rah-rah halftime speech to get us back in focus, but sometimes that's what it takes and sometimes we start slow.
The Bulldogs closed to a 63-59 deficit before an 11-5 spurt, including another Kirk 3-pointer, stretched UNCP's lead to 74-64, its largest of the game, with 8:41 to go.
Jett Fortuny's 3-point shooting — he made six in the second half — kept Barton within reach, including one that made it an 82-77 game with 4:33 to go. But the Braves provided enough baskets to keep the Bulldogs at an arm's length, and after the Braves went up 87-77 with 3:24 to go the margin was never less than seven.
Fortuny finished with 25 points, including a 7-for-8 mark at the free-throw line, and nine rebounds; Bryant scored 32 points, including 22 in the first half, and Donaven Hairston had 17 points and seven assists for the Bulldogs.
"(Bryant) and Fortuny lit us up, they kind of kicked our tails. But (Bryant's) a good player," Richards said. "They've modified what they do to fit their personnel, and we tried to work on it and explain that they're going to keep driving, driving, driving. They've got one guy that really shoots the tar out of it, and he did tonight."
After a closely-contested start, Barton went on a 12-2 run to take a 23-14 lead; UNCP answered with a 9-0 run to tie the game at 23-23 with 10:33 left in the first half. Neither team led by more than three points as the rest of the half was a back-and-forth affair.
That the Braves trailed by just two at halftime was a testament to Spencer Levi's first-half play, with 12 points, four rebounds and three blocks in the first 20 minutes. Levi had foul trouble in the second half, but did make some key baskets down the stretch and finished with 17 points and seven rebounds.
"Whether it's rebounding, whether it's scoring, whatever I'm asked to do I just know I need to do my role at the highest level I can do it," Levi said. "I personally don't think that I should be having to do that all the time; I'm fine with doing it, but we're too good of a team to let that happen and even be down by two at that kind of level."
Trenton McIntyre had 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Braves, Deon Barrien had 12 points and seven assists and Jordan Ratliffe had 11 points.
UNCP plays at Mount Olive at 7 p.m. Monday in a battle of the top two teams in Conference Carolinas.
Poor shooting dooms Lady Braves
The University of North Carolina at Pembroke women's basketball team outrebounded visiting Barton Thursday, got to the free-throw line more efficiently and got solid production from its post players.
But the Lady Braves just couldn't make a shot, resulting in a 59-50 loss.
UNCP (9-5, 7-3 CC) was 1-for-17 (5.9%) from beyond the 3-point line as part of a 17-for-57 (29.8%) night from the field overall.
"I thought we did a good job attacking their zone — we got it inside and got to the free-throw line; we got into Zaria (Clark), she scored, we got it into Gabby (Smith), she scored — but the bottom line is, when people zone you, you've got to make some perimeter shots," UNCP coach John Haskins said. "I don't think we got a bunch of great ones, but we got some pretty good ones."
No. 23 Barton (11-1, 7-1 CC), meanwhile, was 5-for-8 from 3-point range in the first quarter and 7-for-14 in the first half; this gave the Bulldogs a 21-11 lead at the end of the first quarter which they expanded to 31-16, their largest lead of the game, with 7:31 left in the half. UNCP finished the half on a 10-3 run to make it a 34-26 game at halftime, with four points by Gabby Smith during the run.
Barton led 41-28 with 6:41 left in the third; an 8-2 stretch favoring UNCP made it 43-36 with 2:56 on the clock and the Bulldogs led 49-38 going to the fourth.
A 10-2 fourth-quarter run pulled UNCP within five at 55-50 with 2:37 left, but the Braves couldn't make the big shot they needed to finish off the comeback. Clark had two baskets and made three free throws during the run.
"A lot of people were telling me to attack and people believed in me to get in that spot, and we needed some buckets, so just trying to help the team out in any way that I can," Clark said.
Gabby Smith scored 18 points with nine rebounds for UNCP and Zaria Clark had 16 points with 11 rebounds.
"I thought we did a good job of getting it in, and Zaria did a good job of attacking from the high post," Haskins said."We missed some shots around the basket too, but I thought we played hard, we did some good things at times, but we just couldn't get the ball to go in the hole."
Lauren Walker led Barton with 18 points; Shanika Peterkin had 13 points, nine rebounds and five blocks and Akira Wiggins scored 11 points.
The Lady Braves' game at 5 p.m. Monday at Mount Olive also looms large, as the Trojans currently hold the Conference Carolinas lead.
Chris Stiles can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] You can follow him on Twitter at @StilesOnSports.