Defense took center-stage in USC Aikenís game against Paine on Wednesday, a scrappy contest the Pacers won 77-67.

In fact, the five Pacers (6-2) that scored in double-digits got overshadowed by their own defensive accomplishments. Neither USCA nor Paine (2-3) shot better than 40 percent from the floor.

Senior guard Reímon Nelson finished with 13 points, eight assists and an 8-for-8 effort from the free-throw line. But what stood out were his seven steals. Not only is that a career-best for the four-year contributor, but he also passed Kingsley Oguchiís USCA career steals record and now has 165.

Nelson said the record was a product of the system and joked that he would have a conversation with Oguchi about the honor.

ďOur defense is very tough, and coach allows me to run the floor, and thatís why Iím able to get some of those steals,Ē he said. ďIt means a lot to me. ... I guess the previous record was Kingsley Oguchi. Everytime he comes down, we pick at each other, so Iím going to actually give him a call after this game and let him know that his record is broken.Ē

Head coach Vince Alexander was gushing in his praise of Nelson.

ďThatís incredible,Ē he said. ďHeís been my point guard for four years; I love him. He has great heart, great character, and thatís why this team can accomplish the things they accomplish because weíre blessed to have such wonderful kids and great leaders.Ē

Nelson also acknowledged that, in addition to a green-light from coaches, the teamís post presence of Santoine Butler and Paul Larsen allowed him freedom to go after steals. Against Paine, Butler had nine of the teamís 14 blocks Ė tied for a single-game team record Ė and also contributed 13 points. Larsen had a double-double by halftime and finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds.

Alexander said that, while Larsen has been impressive, the junior transfer still has more untapped potential.

ďPaulís an incredible player. The amazing thing about Paul is you havenít seen the best player yet. Heís getting better. Heís very good, but you just havenít seen it yet,Ē Alexander said. ďIím telling you: Heís going to explode, and heís going to be very good.Ē

Even though the Pacers didnít trail after Ronald Zimmerman hit a 3-pointer less than a minute into the game to give them a 3-2 lead, the outcome was never securely in hand. The home team led by as many as 16 in the first half, but the Lions had cut that lead to four by halftime, 41-37.

Zimmerman had 12 points in the first half and finished with 15 on the night.

In the second half, USCA stretched its lead to 12 before Paine brought the margin back to four twice in the gameís final 2 minutes. Butler put it out of reach with an alley-oop dunk to give USCA a 73-67 lead. Nelson and Jesse Seilern finished things off with a pair of free throws each. Seilern finished the game with 10 points.

Mario Jordan and Darius Smith led the Lions with 16 points each, and Aiken Tech product Jerel Stephenson had 11.

USC Aiken will next host King College on Dec. 30 at 3 p.m.

Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.