The USC Aiken men’s basketball team will return to action tonight at the Convocation Center. After posting a 20-point win over Voorhees in their season opener, the Pacers expect to face stiffer competition when they play host Winston-Salem State. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.


The Rams (1-1) came into the year ranked 15th in the National Association of Basketball Coaches preseason rankings. This game will also be a good litmus test for Winston-Salem.


In two games, the Rams have faced two very different opponents. In their regular-season opener, the Rams went on the road and were knocked off by Division-I program UNC Greensboro. Winston-Salem followed that with its home opener against Barber-Scotia, a 55-point victory over college that only started its men’s basketball program in 2009. USCA is a much more comparable opponent for the Rams, who even played national powerhouse Duke in an exhibition.


The Rams will come to Aiken for the first game in a home-and-home series with the Pacers led by Justin Glover. The senior guard was their top scorer a season ago and is averaging 14 points per game through the first two games. While Glover can light up the scoreboard, it can come at a cost for Winston-Salem. Glover’s a volume shooter and has only made 11 of 30 shots this season. Another Ram who could be key is point guard Marcus Wells. The senior isn’t much of a scorer but is averaging six assists per game and is a threat to get on the boards and start Winston-Salem’s transition game.


Glover’s ball domination can limit his teammates opportunities, but the Rams have a couple of players in the frontcourt who are capable of making important contributions. One is WyKevin Bazemore, a sophomore forward. Slightly undersized at 6-foot-4, Bazemore plays big and is Winston-Salem’s top rebounder. He’s grabbing an average of nine per game to go along with more than seven points.


Bazemore plays in the paint with fellow forward Stephon Platt. At 6-8, the senior is more of the typical pivot player and he’s been solid this season, with 19 points and six rebounds in two games in spite of seeing limited action in the blowout of Barber-Scotia.


Bazemore and Platt could be critical players in tonight’s game. USCA has a lot of talented players in its frontcourt, but few with experience in had coach Vince Alexander’s system. The only veteran frontcourt players returning from last season’s team are Rick Alderman and Maurice Hubbard – and neither played in the opener against Voorhees.


In their place, newcomers Santoine Butler and Paul Larsen started, as Alexander went with a three-guard lineup that featured players with a combined seven years experience in the USCA program.


But Larsen and Butler, a pair of junior transfers, did an admirable job in their first game as Pacers. Larsen was very impressive. He posted a double-double with 14 points (on 6 of 9 shooting) and 10 rebounds to go along with two blocked shots. Butler wasn’t as productive, but he was active in 26 minutes, grabbing eight boards to go with four points and two blocks.


Other first-year Pacers who had an impact included Kinley Branch – who scored a team-best 19 points to go with four rebounds and four assists – and DeVontae Wright, who had 15 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals. Fellow newcomers Shane Porchea, Victor Bowden and Derrick Scott also saw limited action.


While the frontcourt might be a work in progress, the trio of veteran guards Re’mon Nelson, Jesse Seilern and Ronald Zimmerman are as close to a sure thing as any team in the Peach Belt Conference can claim. Nelson, the senior point guard, and the two juniors each played at least 22 minutes in the win and combined for 38 points, 10 assists, seven steals and six rebounds.


If they are equally productive, it could mean a 2-0 start for USCA, which won’t play again until Nov. 28, when it plays at Winston-Salem.


Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than a dozen years after graduating from Syracuse University.


Today’s Game


What: USC Aiken men’s basketball


Who: USCA (1-0) vs. Winston-Salem (1-1)


When: Today, 7 p.m.


Where: USCA Convocation Center


STAR WATCH


USCA: Paul Larsen, Jr. F. In his first game with the Pacers since transferring from Mercer Larsen helped fill a void in the front court with 14 points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots.


Winston-Salem: Justin Glover, Sr. G. Glover was the Rams’ leading scorer last season and had a team-best 13 points in their first win this season, a triumph over Barber-Scotia.