ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Freshman guard Ja’Da Brayboy scored a career-high 21 points for UNC Asheville on Tuesday evening, none bigger than the two free throws she converted with five seconds left in the game to give the Bulldogs a 75-71 victory over visiting Bluefield College in non-conference women’s basketball action at Kimmel Arena.
“We found a way to pull through down the stretch,” said Asheville head coach Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick. “We were without Shonese Jones tonight and our other guards stepped up in a big way, especially Ja’Da Brayboy. We shot the ball well as a team, but we’re going to have to work on our defense.”
Brayboy scored a career-best 21 on 8-of-12 shooting, hitting 5-of-7 from the charity stripe. She also dished out a career-best six assists after replacing Jones in the starting lineup. Paige Love chipped in 13 to the Bulldogs’ total and Brittany Gwyn added 11. Jeannie Buckner led the team in rebounds with six on the evening.
Bluefield’s Teqa McNeal scored a team-best 19 for the Rams, with teammates Janee Simmons adding 17, Whitney Smith adding 13 and Maryah Mazyck adding 10. McNeal also tallied six assists in directing the Bluefield offense, with Mazyck posting a game-high 11 rebounds.
The Bulldogs started hot offensively, running out to a 16-6 lead over the first five minutes of the contest. Bluefield would hang around and pull to within a buck at 20-18 on a Destiny Tolliver layup with 9:05 to go in the first. The two teams traded buckets back and forth before the Rams eventually tied the game at 28-28 on a Mazyck layup at the 3:45 mark.
After falling behind on a pair of free throws by Bluefield, Brayboy put the Bulldogs up 32-31 with a minute-and-a-half to go. Asheville would finish the frame the on a 6-0 run to take a 36-31 lead into the break.
The second half would see the Blue & White start off hot once again, running out to a 59-43 advantage with 12:40 to go. However, the Rams would not go down quietly. Bluefield chipped away at the Asheville lead over the rest of the frame, cutting the lead to 70-69 on a McNeal runner with 40 seconds left in the game.
With 35 seconds on the clock Brayboy was fouled and converted her two free throws before McNeal of the Rams hit another layup from the baseline to pull Bluefield within two with 19 seconds remaining.
The Bulldogs were clinging to a 73-71 lead when the Asheville defense forced a turnover with six seconds to go. Brayboy was fouled and hit two from the charity stripe to put Asheville up by four points. A McNeal desperation 3-pointer went off the rim as the final buzzer sounded, giving the Bulldogs the 75-71 victory.
UNC Asheville will play at Charleston Southern on Monday as the Bulldogs will open up Big South Conference play on the road. Opening tip is set for 7 p.m. in the Buc Dome, with the Blue & White searching for their first road win of the season.