PEMBROKE — Friday’s Southeastern Conference opener between Scotland and Purnell Swett was a nip-and-tuck affair for the first 18 minutes.
That’s when Scotland caught fire from long range.
The Scots hit 3-pointers on four straight possessions shortly after halftime and outscored the Rams by 15 points in the third quarter en route to a 72-66 victory.
Scotland put together its game-changing run at the start of the third quarter — the Scots led 34-33 with six minutes remaining in the period, then sophomore Niem Ratliffe sank three straight 3-pointers to widen the cushion.
On the following Scots possession, sophomore Justin McRae drilled a shot from beyond the arc to make it 48-39, forcing Purnell Swett head coach Jeremy Sampson to burn a timeout. The break in the action did little to halt the Scotland onslaught, as junior Donte Green added a pair of baskets to widen the advantage to 13.
In all, Scotland outscored Purnell Swett 26-11 in the third quarter after the two teams were tied at 31 entering halftime. The Rams took advantage of a couple of Scotland misses from the free throw line near the end of the game to close within single digits.
“I thought the effort level overall from all five guys on the floor was consistently solid,” Scotland head coach Matt Justin said.
Ratliffe, who entered the game averaging 32 points in his last two outings, led all scorers with 20 points. His 3-point barrage in the third quarter is becoming a trend — he hit four 3-pointers in Scotland’s win against Richmond Senior last week and followed with six treys against Jack Britt on Tuesday.
“(Ratliffe) was frustrated in the first half because he hit one at the start, then missed a couple and got his second foul,” Justin said. “When he gets on a roll like that, you almost expect it to go in and I’ve seen it now since October.”
McRae tallied 15, and Green was the third Scot to crack double digits with 10 points.
Lucas Oxendine was the top scorer for the Rams with 15 points.
Purnell Swett closed the deficit to 64-54 with 3:30 remaining in the fourth quarter, but Ratliffe hit his sixth 3 of the game keep the Rams at arm’s length.
“You can tell they’re getting better — they’re starting to play more together, they’re starting to hit the open man,” Justin said. “They’re not as concerned about who is scoring as winning, which is a huge step for our program.”
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.