USCA has last laugh in win over Augusta
No. 6 USC AIKEN 79, AUGUSTA 76
AUGUSTA — It came down to three letters Wednesday night for USC Aiken men’s basketball coach Mark Vanderslice.
That was how Vanderslice described the Pacers’ mad dash into the visitors’ locker room at Christenberry Fieldhouse after they used a 10-2 run over the final 2:45 to beat rival Augusta 79-76.
“I tell our guys all the time, ‘Some of you guys don’t like necessarily practicing hard, don’t like the fact that I’m pushing you guys,’” he said. ”’You guys come to practice and you give everything you got. It might not always be fun, but the fun part is winning. And you earned this opportunity.
″‘This is why you work hard. This is why you play together. This is why you do the things that you do on the practice court, because when it comes to tonight, you earned these opportunities. And enjoy them, because you don’t get them very often. When they do come, have fun with it.’”
It was the latest classic in this tense rivalry – there were 14 ties and 14 lead changes Wednesday night, and it came down to the wire yet again.
Xzavier Barmore got a steal with 9 seconds left and USCA (18-1, 12-1 Peach Belt Conference) hanging on to a two-point lead. He was fouled and made the first of two free throws, then got a steal on Augusta’s next possession to secure the win.
Ty’lik Evans’ four-point play with 1:08 remaining gave USCA a 76-74 lead, and he got two more on a goaltend with 18 seconds to go for a 78-76 advantage.
Evans became the villain of Christenberry Fieldhouse, and he relished that role. He scored a team-high 24 points, shared game-high honors with Faison Brock with eight rebounds, and had a game-high five steals.
“We knew that it was going to be competitive – it’s the home rivalry, so we were just trying to be prepared for what they threw at us,” he said. “Really, I give credit to my teammates first, and I was just there playing my role. So it just came to me.”
The four-point play punctuated a wild possession kept alive by an offensive rebound and a Barmore pass down the baseline through traffic. Evans absorbed the contact and drained the 3, and he again raised his index finger to his lips to shush the home crowd.
Augusta led by two at the half, and Vanderslice was in a difficult predicament with seven different Pacers having two fouls. That confined Doniel Dean to the bench for most of the first half, and he was already there when Barmore picked up his second with 11 minutes until halftime.
The Pacers had to adjust, so they went to a 2-3 zone defense to limit their chances of picking up any more fouls. It worked, and the foul calls decreased significantly in the second half.
Dean went on a tear in the second half, going 7-for-11 from the field for 15 points after being limited to two points on 1-of-2 shooting in the first half. Barmore also had 17 points, and his defensive plays late were a big example of Vanderslice’s assertion that both teams played evenly and it would come down to whoever stepped up last.
It was fitting that the Pacers had the last laugh, as they’ve risen to the occasion time after time in close games when the other PBC teams have taken their best shot at knocking off the league-leader.
Augusta’s Miguel Arnold led all scorers with 25 points, and he made seven 3-pointers. His last make came with 3:35 to go, and it put Augusta ahead 74-69.
Three other Jaguars score in double figures. Deane Williams had 13 points, including a game-tying layup with 44 seconds to go, but it was also his goaltend on Evans that put USCA back ahead. Rafael Monteiro had 11 points, and Tyree Myers scored 10.
Up next for the Pacers is a home game at 3:30 p.m. Saturday against Young Harris.