Falcons advance to conference tournament semifinals

FROM STAFF REPORTS

The University of Montevallo men’s basketball team pulled away in the late stages for a 74-62 victory over UNC-Pembroke in the first quarterfinal of the Peach Belt Conference tournament March 2 the Frank G. Lumpkin Center in Columbus, Ga.

The victory was the sixth in the last seven games for the Falcons (22-7), which advances them to face the Augusta State University-Georgia College and State University winner on Saturday, March 3 at 5 p.m. in the tournament semifinals.

Senior D.J. Rivera led four Falcons in double figures.

Junior Drico Hightower tallied 17 points and six rebounds, freshman Ryan May booked 14 points and senior Antoine Davis, the conference Defensive Player of the Year, netted 11 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and two steals.

UNC-Pembroke freshman Griffin Pittman paced the Braves with 14 points. Shahmel Brackett pitched in 13 and three steals and K.J. Cooper chipped in 10 points.

Montevallo jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first 2:02 of the game on an Davis 3-point play, a Davis deflection and steal that led to a Rivera layup and a Hightower layup.

Brackett got the Braves on the board with a running jumper before Pittman swished a 3-pointer and keyed a 25-3 run that Brackett capped when he hit a trey from the left baseline for a 30-15 Braves’ lead, their largest of the half.

The Falcons answered, closing the final 5:15 of the half on a 14-3 spurt as UNC-Pembroke misfired on six of its last seven field goal attempts and three free throw attempts.

Montevallo used a 14-2 run in the first six minutes of the second half to move back ahead 43-35. May swished a three from the right corner and Hightower’s tip in put the West Division’s top seed up by 10 at 45-35 with 13:57 remaining.

After Mike Robinson hit a jumper for the Braves, May swished back-to-back 3-pointers – his third and fourth of the second half — to give the Falcons some breathing room at 54-40.

The Braves wouldn’t go away, however, and when Brackett nailed a trey from the top of the key, UNC-Pembroke trailed just 64-58 with 2:33 to play. After a Marvin Fitzgerald free throw put the Falcons up seven, UNC-Pembroke freshman Ben Jacobs answered with a free throw of his own for a 65-59 deficit.

Hightower answered with two free throws and an uncontested layup from May put Montevallo in control 69-60 with less than a minute remaining. Rivera drained three free throws for a 72-60 Falcons’ advantage and Hightower added a pair from the charity stripe before the Braves’ Cooper hit a layup for the final margin.

Montevallo shot 53.5 percent overall, including 63.6 in the second half, and hit 50 percent of its 3-point attempts (7-of-14).

The Braves shot 46.2 percent for the game, but connected on just 3-of-14 (21.4 percent) from long distance.

UNC-Pembroke edged the Falcons on the boards, 30-28.