The USC Aiken men’s basketball team is returning from a nine-day layoff tonight, and the opponent it will face is the one it played in its last game. The Pacers (2-0) will once again face Winston-Salem State, the squad that was ranked 15th in the nation when USCA knocked it off 98-84 on Nov. 19. The biggest difference between that game and tonight’s contest, scheduled to tip off at 7 p.m., is the location. Tonight’s game will be played at the CE Gaines Center on the Winston-Salem campus. It will mark the first time this season the Pacers play away from the Convocation Center, where they have a 60-11 record in regular-season games since the 2007-08 season, when the facility opened. USCA hasn’t lost at home since falling to Georgia College, 66-64, on Feb. 12, 2011, and went a perfect 14-0 at home last season.

But playing away from the friendly confines of the Convocation Center won’t be the only challenge the Pacers face. They’ll be looking to restore the rhythm they established prior to the Thanksgiving Week break, and they’ll be facing a team intent on avenging its lone loss to a fellow Division II opponent.

Since the 14-point setback, the Rams – now ranked 23rd – have won two games in a row in the Fresh Coast Classic in Milwaukee, improving their record to 3-2 on the season. In their most recent game, a 63-57 win over No. 10 Saint Leo’s on Saturday, reserve forward Wakefield Ellison sparked the Rams with 18 points and nine rebounds, while point guard Marcus Wells was named MVP of the two-day event – where he totaled 29 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and seven steals in the pair of victories.

Wells was far less effective against USCA in the first game. He only had five points on 1-of-7 shooting from the field as well as two assists, compared to four turnovers. While the Rams had four players score in double figures in that game – led by Wykevin Bazemore and Tyre Desmore’s 13 points apiece – offense wasn’t the issue in the loss.

Winston-Salem trailed most of the game because it could never slow down, much less stop USCA.

The Pacers scored 98 points, connecting on 30 of 49 field-goal attempts (61 percent).

They were even better behind the 3-point arc, where they combined to go 14-for-19, and astounding 73 percent that established a single-game school record.

Leading the way was guard Ronald Zimmerman. Best known for spurts of instant offense over the past few seasons, Zimmerman had his best game with 28 points and made seven 3-pointers. While Zimmerman enjoyed a career night, he was far from a line gun. The Pacers had four other players post double-figure point totals – including Jesse Seilern (19), Kinley Branch (16), Santoine Butler (14) and Re’mon Nelson, who added 11 assists to his dozen points.

“We watched a lot of film and saw their defensive tendencies,” Nelson said after the win. “We did a good job executing the game plan.”

That included driving the baseline and finding openings in the corners, where the USCA players executed when they got opportunities. The Pacers will look to repeat their success tonight but should face a stauncher challenge.

“I expect to have a lot more pressure on me,” Zimmerman said of the rematch. “It should be an intense game.”

USCA head coach Vince Alexander echoed those sentiments, with a caveat.

“I expect them to be fired up and ticked off,” Alexander said. “But I expect our team to be ready too.”

While the Pacers will try and duplicate the offensive production, Alexander is optimistic his squad can play even better. The key areas for improvement will be in protecting the ball and reducing the number of turnovers to less than the 17 they committed, cutting down on personal fouls from the 24 they were whistled for and improve their production on the boards.

“It’s a great challenge to see where we are,” Alexander said.

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 (2-0) at Winston-Salem State (3-2)

Where: CE Gaines Center

When: Tonight, 7

Star watch

USCA: Ronald Zimmerman, Jr. G. Zimmerman is coming off a career-best performance against Winston-Salem, when he scored 28 points and added two assists, two rebounds and two steals.

Winston-Salem: Wakefield Ellison, Sr. F. Ellison is starter in sixth-man’s clothing, averaging more that 10 points and four rebounds per game off the bench this season.