The season is still in the very early stages, but fans have already glimpsed how the USC Aiken men’s basketball team handles success. Now, they’ll get a chance to see how it responds to adversity.
The Pacers (2-1) are coming off their first loss of the season, a 79-70 setback against Winston-Salem State. The loss occurred during their first game away from the Convocation Center and they’ll be on the road again today when they return to action in Columbia, when the Pacers will face Benedict College. Tip-off is scheduled for 3 p.m. at HRC Arena.
Like the Pacers, the Tigers (2-1) are coming off their first loss of the season. Playing against USCA’s Peach Belt Conference rival Augusta State on Wednesday, Benedict was on the wrong end of a 82-71 final. But this will be an interesting challenge for the Pacers. USCA has some issues with depth, because of injury, especially in the front court. Benedict could cause them problems with five players on the roster listed at 6-foot-7 or taller.
In the loss to the Jaguars, the Tigers had an edge on the boards and pulled down 18 rebounds off the offensive glass. The Pacers will need to reduce that number and limit the home team’s second-chance scoring opportunities if they want to avoid a second consecutive defeat. For the season, Benedict has prospered by extending possessions, allowing it to average more than 75 points per game on 46 percent shooting from the field.
It has three players averaging double figure point totals and another just behind at 9 per game. Tydran Beaty leads the way with more than 17 points per game, exceeding the 20-point plateau in the past two games. The 6-7 senior forward’s also pulling down more than eight rebounds per game. Joining him as capable scorers are Brennan Reynard (16 ppg.) and Xavier Collier, who has scored 15 points in all three Benedict games, with Lamar Adkins as the other threat.
If the game is played at a fast tempo, it could favor the Pacers. The 70-point output in the loss to Winston-Salem State was by far their lowest total of the season. USCA scored more than 90 points in its first two wins, averaging a shade less than 87 points per game this season, and is always looking to push and get in transition where it can create mismatches.
The Pacers are adepts at scoring in the half-court, with Ronald Zimmerman (20 ppg.) able to shoot over defenses and Re’mon Nelson capable of driving through them – creating looks at the rim for teammates and himself with averages of 9 points and 8 assists per game. But when they’re on the run, that’s when they’re at their best and their lack of height isn’t an issue.
Versatile players like Jesse Seilern and Kinley Branch are adept at playing in the open court. Both are averaging better than 15 points per game this season.
USCA is without big men Maurice Hubbard and Rick Alderman, as well as reserve guard DeVontae Wright because of injuries. That’s put pressure on Nelson to play more, as well as first-year Pacers Santoine Butler and Paul Larsen who are logging major minutes in the front court. Butler had a good game in the loss, posting a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Branch also had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, an area where his long 6-6 frame has been critical. Getting off to a good start could be the difference, if the Pacers are going to rebound from their first loss.
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.