AIKEN, S.C. – Shahmel Bracket scored five points in the final 15 seconds, including a pair of free throws with nine seconds left, to lead UNC Pembroke past Georgia Southwestern 69-68 and to the school's first trip to the championship game of the PBC Tournament. UNCP (18-10) entered the tournament as the #3 seed in the east and sends GSW (20-8), the #1 seed in the west, home after reaching the semifinal round for the first time in school history. UNCP will face east #1 seed Augusta State in the championship game on Sunday at 4:30.
With his team down 68-64 with 15 seconds to go, Brackett hit a running three-pointer from the top of the key.
"We were trying to drive Brackett into the help," said GSW head coach Mike Leeder, "and he rocked us back and hit a three."
Brackett then had the key defensive play of the game as he stole the inbounds pass away from GSW's Trayce Macon and was fouled with nine ticks left.
"Off the timeout, we inbounded the ball to Macon and we tried to dribble through a trap and turned it over," said Leeder. "Give Brackett credit - he came up with another hustle play."
Down one, Brackett drained both free throws for a one-point Braves lead.
The Hurricanes had the last shot, but Bobby Glover's three-point attempt was off the mark.
"I wanted to try to attack (on the last play)," said Leeder. "That wasn't the shot we wanted at the end."
Brackett, named third-team All-Conference this year, scored a game-high 26 points, hitting all 11 of his free throws, tying a PBC Tournament record. He hit half of his six three-pointers and had five rebounds and three steals. George Blakeney added 14 points and five boards while Chris Hargrove had 11 points and five boards.
GSW spread its offense around with four players scoring in double figures. Trayce Macon had 19 while PBC Player of the Year Phillip Brown had 14 points and a game-high nine rebounds.
Both teams were slow to begin the contest. UNC Pembroke, making its first appearance in the PBC semifinals since 1996, opened up a 9-6 lead on a Marcus Heath jumper with 14:10 to go in the first. Neither team would lead by more than that margin in the first half until Brackett hit a pair of free throws with 11 seconds left that gave the Braves a five-point lead. Brown answered with a dunk for the Hurricanes at the other end and UNCP led at the half 36-33.
There were 13 lead changes and eight ties in the first half alone.
UNC Pembroke held the lead for the first seven minutes of the second half, but never by more than four points. Georgia Southwestern got a three-pointer from Macon and a free throw from Colin Slotter to tie the game at 42 with 13:08 to go.
The two teams would trade the lead six times over the next six minutes. UNCP built up a four-point lead once again with 4:15 to play on a Blakeney free throw, but the game was tied less than a minute later as Evan Mobley had a layup and Brown a pair of free throws.
A Glover three-pointer gave GSW the lead with 1:47 to play. GSW built that lead to four over the next minute with a Macon breakaway layup and a Mobley free throw. Macon added two more free throws with 20 seconds left to give GSW a four-point lead that led into the final sequence.
The Hurricanes shot 43% from the floor and 35% from long range while UNCP hit 38% from the floor and only four of 13 three-pointers. UNCP won the battle at the free throw line, hitting 21 of 26 (.808) while GSW was 15-22 (.682).
"I would like to congratulate UNC Pembroke," said Leeder. "I know they are fighting for their tournament lives and certainly played like that tonight.
They were the tougher team, they came up with a lot of loose balls and they out-rebounded us. They made the big plays down the stretch and were the better team tonight."
The winner of the PBC Championship game gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Augusta State and Georgia Southwestern are virtual locks for tournament bids while UNC Pembroke will need to win the event to earn the automatic bid.