PEMBROKE — Two strong-shooting halves by men’s basketball players from The University of North Carolina at Pembroke were indicative of the entire team’s shooting successes during the Braves’ home opener against Columbus State Saturday.
Trenton McIntyre was perfect in the first half and Tyrell Kirk was nearly perfect in the second half, helping lead the Braves to a 91-72 win over the Cougars.
Taking a lot of high-percentage shots in the game, the Braves were 61.5% (32-for-52) from the floor — including a 76.1% rate on 2-point shots — despite an 0-for-10 mark from 3-point range.
“We made it a point of emphasis, and those are higher-percentage shots,” said UNCP coach Drew Richards, who won his home debut. “Tyrell Kirk and Trent (McIntyre), those guys are extremely proficient attacking to the paint. We can shoot; we have great shooters. … But when we get the ball inside 15 feet, usually good things happen on numerous accounts, outside of just high-percentage shots and free throws and rebounding positioning.”
McIntyre, a Greensboro freshman in his first collegiate home game, was 5-for-5 from the field and 2-for-2 at the free-throw line over the first 20 minutes, including three baskets during a 15-3 Braves run that gave them a lead they would not relinquish. McIntyre finished with 16 points, five rebounds and four assists.
“I feel really comfortable, with my (team) leaders,” McIntyre said. “They’ve pulled me under their wing since day one, told me this is my show, go out there and play ball like I know I can. I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help us win.”
Kirk was 5-for-6 shooting in the second half and 2-for-2 on free throws, helping UNCP extend its lead to as many as 23. Kirk totaled 19 points, six rebounds and three assists.
“I trust coach to put me in certain situations to execute, and I execute,” Kirk said.
The pairing of the Braves veteran leader and one of its newcomers leading the way was fitting, as McIntyre said Kirk has been among the veterans to take him under his wing this season.
“He’s got his cape on tonight, and I’m trying to follow in his footsteps,” McIntyre said of Kirk. “He just always pulls me aside and is telling me, ‘just go out there and play, just play your game.’”
The Braves had five double-figure scorers in all. Spencer Levi scored 15 points with 13 rebounds for a double-double. Jordan Ratliffe scored 14 points and was 8-for-8 on free throws. Cortez Marion-Holmes scored 13 points.
While the Braves offense starred, UNCP held Columbus State to 39.1% (27-for-69) from the floor and outrebounded the Cougars 41-26.
“We’ve talked about it since day one, it’s the program’s philosophy and it’s been the program’s philosophy since before I’ve known: what brings us success is defense and rebounding,” Richards said. “And we harp on that, and we tell the guys if they want to play they’re going to do it. … I think our guys have really owned that, and that’s something that’s never going to change.”
Christian Chambers led Columbus State with 19 points and Anthony Moore had 12 points, nine rebounds and three assists.
Columbus State led 10-8 in a back-and-forth game at the start with both sides struggling from the floor in the first eight minutes before the Braves offense came to life. The Braves’ 15-3 run gave them a 23-13 lead with 7:04 left in the half.
The Braves lead hovered between nine and 11 points and was 31-20 with 3:19 left in the half, before an 8-2 spurt to end the half extended the lead to 39-22 by halftime.
The Cougars cut the Braves’ lead to 12 at 41-29 in the first two minutes of the second half, but two Marion-Homes baskets and a Kirk layup and free throw keyed an 11-2 UNCP run to stretch the lead to 52-31 with 14:16 to play.
UNCP’s lead was never less than 16 the rest of the way, peaking at a 70-47 advantage with 6:42 remaining.
Chris Stiles can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] You can follow him on Twitter at @StilesOnSports.