PEMBROKE — Building off its most successful campaign in 20 years, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke is ready to continue its ascension in the southeastern men’s college basketball pecking order and luckily for one of Division II’s fastest-rising programs, its toughest games this season won’t even count.
UNCP unveiled this year’s 32-game slate on Friday, a schedule featuring early-season exhibition contests at N.C. State, North Carolina and Georgia followed by an opening weekend getaway in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico at the Mayaguez Basketball Classic.
The Braves return two starters off a club that finished second in the Peach Belt Conference’s East Division at 22-10 last season and made its second NCAA Tournament appearance under coach Ben Miller. UNCP graduated two of the program’s all-time leading scorers, All-Americans Shahmel Brackett and George Blakeney, and led its league in home attendance last season.
Miller, who is entering his sixth season in Pembroke, spent part of Friday playing in the annual Two Rivers Classic golf tournament in Fayetteville with other UNCP athletic department officials before departing on the recruiting trail to Charlotte.
His expectations are high for this upcoming season.
“The home crowd has been tremendous, and it’s gotten better every year I have been here,” Miller said. “There were so many nights and situations last year where I really thought the (home) crowd gave us a lift, and gave us that extra energy to get over the hump on the defensive end. It’s really hard to express what that means to our team. The atmosphere in the Jones Center has been really electric and I think we have a lot of momentum going into this season.”
The Braves open their home schedule against Limestone in the UNCP Invitational on Nov. 15. They’ll travel to local rival Fayetteville State before hosting St. Andrews the following week. The PBC season tips off on Dec. 14 when UNCP welcomes nationally-ranked USC Aiken inside the Jones Center.
UNCP 2013-14 men’s basketball schedule
Oct. 30 at N.C. State (Reynolds Coliseum), 7 p.m.
Nov. 1 at North Carolina, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 4 at Georgia, 7 p.m.
Nov. 8 at Puerto Rico-Mayaguez (Mayaguez Basketball Classic), 8 p.m.
Nov. 9 vs. Puerto Rico-Bayamon at Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, 5 p.m.
Nov. 10 vs. Puerto Rico-Ria Piedros at Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, 10 a.m.
Nov. 15 Limestone, (UNCP Invitational), 5:30 p.m.
Nov. 16 Belmont Abbey, 5:30 p.m.
Nov. 21 at Fayetteville State, 7 p.m.
Nov. 26 St. Andrews, 7 p.m.
Dec. 9 Mid-Atlantic Christian, 6 p.m.
Dec. 14 USC Aiken *, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 16 at Lander*, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 19 at Mount Olive, 7 p.m.
Dec. 22 Coker, 2 p.m.
Jan. 2 Georgia College *, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 5 at GRU Augusta *, 4 p.m.
Jan. 11 at Georgia Southwestern*, 3:30 p.m.
Jan. 12 at Columbus State*, 3:30 p.m.
Jan. 15 Lander*, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 18 Clayton State*, 3:30 p.m.
Jan. 20 Montevallo*, 3:30 p.m.
Jan. 23 at Armstrong Atlantic*, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 25 GRU Augusta*, 3:30 p.m.
Jan. 30 Francis Marion*, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 1 Armstrong Atlantic*, 3:30 p.m.
Feb. 6 at Francis Marion*, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 8 Flagler*, 3:30 p.m.
Feb. 13 at Young Harris*, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 15 at North Georgia*, 3:30 p.m.
Feb. 22 at Flagler*, 3:30 p.m.
Mar. 1 at USC Aiken*, 7:30 p.m.
Reach staff writer Brad Crawford at 910-272-6119 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MrPalmettoSDS.