GREENWOOD, S.C. – Brandon Watts scored 14 of his team-best 18 points in the second half, and the 24th-ranked UNC Pembroke men's basketball team limited Columbus State to just 20 percent shooting over the game's final 7-1/2 minutes, to lift the Braves to the program's first Peach Belt Conference Tournament championship with an 89-77 victory over the Cougars on Sunday afternoon in Horne Arena.
The result marked the 10th-straight victory for the Braves (24-7) who locked up the league's automatic berth into the NCAA postseason with the win as well. UNCP will learn of its postseason fate on Sunday evening at 10:30 p.m. via a live tournament selection show that will be broadcast at NCAA.com.
The setback snapped a two-game series win streak for the Cougars (20-9) who are likely to wrap up an at-large berth into the postseason as well when the pairings are announced on Sunday evening.
The Black & Gold got 15 points from both PBC Tournament Most Valuable Player Akia Pruitt and James Murray-Boyles, while Nigel Grant chipped in a baker's dozen and Quamain Rose added 11. Watts joined Pruitt on the all-tournament team as well.
Darius Joell turned in a game-best 21 points for the Cougars, while all-conference standout JaCori Payne tallied 19 points and five assists.
A 3-pointer from Watts with 14:55 left sparked the Braves on a 15-6 run that eventually gave them a 67-58 advantage four minutes later, but the Cougars answered with 10-straight points over the next three minutes to regain the momentum. Columbus State, however, would connect on just three of their final 15 shots from the field to seal its fate. The turn in fortune helped fuel a game-changing 20-6 run for the Black & Gold that gave it an 87-74 advantage with less than a minute to play.
The Cougars shot 63 percent from the field in a foul-stricken first half, including a 4-of-7 clip from the perimeter, and led for more than 12 minutes of the opening stanza. The Braves kept themselves in the contest with hot shooting as well, but also helped their cause with 15 second chance points.
2017 PBC Men's Basketball
Keshun Sherrill, Augusta
J.R. Washington, Lander
JaCori Payne, Columbus State
Darius Joell, Columbus State
Brandon Watts, UNC Pembroke
Most Valuable Player
Akia Pruitt, UNC Pembroke