The University of North Carolina at Pembroke invaded the Gaines Center, and earned an impressive road win against a retooled Winston Salem State squad.
Winston Salem, North Carolina- This contest went down in front of a packed house. The Rams student section got after the visiting Braves all night, I have to say the energy was emphatic throughout the gymnasium!
The Braves captured a double digit lead by halftime, they withstood some rigorous runs from the Rams late in the second half, but ultimately this group never lost control of this contest.
UNCP (3-0,0-0) Standouts
6’7 senior Akia Pruitt played big minutes and led the way with 20 points and 20 rebounds, in a homecoming for the RJ Reynolds graduate he stole the show. Pruitt had a solid first half but he really turned it up in the second half, and proved to be a key reason this game remained out of reach. Pruitt was effective from all three levels, he made mid range jumpers off the bounce in rhythm, he looked comfortable overpowering smaller wings on the block, Pruitt welcomed contact on finishes.
Pruitt stretched the floor also, his three point shooting ability opens the floor for this offense, he went two for three on the night from deep. Pruitt looked good in space, off the bounce and in transition, he routinely carved out space. The versatility Pruitt brings will be a major weapon for an already deep team, Pruitt impacts the game on both ends, he will clean up the glass and guard multiple positions as well.
Along with Pruitt UNCP utilized their size advantage with 6’10 senior Carson Mounce, they got him involved early and often. Mounce made his touches count, he showed poise and strong hands in the post. Mounce was persistent on the glass and earned some tough second chance points. Mounce was one rebound short of a double double, he had 10 points and nine boards on the night.
6’4 Jr Tyrell Kirk earned 19 points in impressive fashion, he was arguably the best guard on the floor, and that’s saying a lot when considering the quality of guard play on both sides. The game was close early, and Kirk ignited a fire under this offense, he’s silky smooth off the dribble, very adept at creating space, Kirk has a quick fluid release. Kirk gets nice elevation on his jumper and he can really shoot it from range.
6’2 redshirt Jr David Strother was patient and careful with the basketball, he’s got a saucey handle that will drop some jaws, but Strother has controlled flash. Strother created plays for others off the dribble, he’s a slasher that draws a lot of attention but has the awareness, and vision to find open teammates while making split second decisions. Strother worked to get his teammates involved, he really focused in on feeding the post, an area the Braves had an obvious advantage over the Rams.
Next to him 5’10 redshirt sophomore Jordan Ratliffe added another 10 points, he made some clutch shots from the perimeter, which included a pair of big three pointers to help keep the Rams from closing in. Ratliffe also provides another reliable ball handler for this group, when the defense keys in on Strother. Ratliffe can make shots if given space, and he isn’t shy about letting it fly, Rattliffe also has a nice first step, and active hands on defense.
Overall I liked what I saw from guards on both sides feature deep back courts with versatile and capable scorers. The Braves guards controlled the tempo, and cleaned up some sloppy play that slowed this team down early, this group can play fast and operate in half court sets efficiently.
WSSU (0-1,0-0) Standouts
6’4 soph Jaylen Alston continues to be one of the most versatile players in the hoop state, more than likely Alston will legitimately guard four spots for the Rams this season. Alston scored eight points and grabbed eight boards. The Gardner Webb transfer boasts nice length and explosive athletic ability down low, he’s physical and springy enough to compete for boards with the big boys in the paint.
Speaking of shot makers 6’1 jr guard Justice Kithcart led this group in scoring with 17 points, and he knocked down four out of seven attempts from behind the arc. Kithcart came out fearless in this game, his hot shooting kept the Rams close in the contest for majority of the first half. Kithcart looked comfortable shooting off the dribble, and the Old Dominion transfer showed confidence moving without the rock on spot up opportunities. It was quite a debut for Kithcart under the bright lights and Red Sea.
6’1 senior Robert Colon, had a tough night, he was one of seven from the field and finished with four points total. It’s weird to say but it feels like Colon is still finding his stride and niche in this revamped lineup. I understand we’re discussing one of the most polished scorers in division II. Colon made some noteworthy plays, but it still looked like he was a bit uncomfortable. Colon had a lesser load than we’re used to seeing in the home opener, there are other capable creators and shot makers in the line up with him this season.
I was also impressed with with 6’4 sophomore newcomer Johnathan Hicklin, he added another five points and snagged four boards along with it. The James Madison transfer came out in attack mode from the tip. He’s another versatile weapon on the perimeter that may be asked to play bigger than he physically is, the lefty was strong with the rock when he attacked the paint, Hicklin showed some crafty ball skills to get shots off amongst the trees in the paint. Hicklin looked like a veteran on the floor for the most part, and he defended pretty well on ball.
6’8 senior forward Mason Harrell earned a tough six points and he grabbed three rebounds as well. Harrell proved to have that dog in him, Harrell initiated contact, and didn’t back down from a bigger and deeper Uncp front line. Harrell was a reliable low block option at times for the Rams, and a potential defensive anchor in the middle. Harrell is a capable finisher with either hand, and he’s improved as a jump shooter as well, the level of confidence is noticeably higher in that department.
The Skinny– this was a game of runs, both teams came out the gate firing on all cylinders, it was a bit sloppy in the opening minutes, but both sides played with pace and shot the ball well especially from deep.
The Rams have some new faces, that should generate some genuine excitement around this program, on a nightly basis. This group lacks a true big but they have a ton of fire power, and versatility in the backcourt and on the wings.
This group had a week off after the UNC scrimmage, I believe as this group continues to build chemistry, they could be the favorite to take the CIAA this year.
UNCP should see themselves in the top 25 sooner than later, I don’t believe there are many teams at the D2 level that posses the firepower and depth of Uncp.
The black and gold returned a strong core of starters from last years group. Coach Ben Miller’s group looks primed for another run in the gauntlet known as the Peach Belt.
Next up for UNCP is the Queens Challenge, they will play Tusculum in their opening matchup, Saturday, Nov 16th
The Rams will take the court next vs Fort Valley State in the CIAA/SIAC challenge on Friday, Nov 15th.