USC AIKEN 82, MONTEVALLO 77
By JEREMY TIMMERMAN
In most cases, if a team’s leading scorer doesn’t score a single point – or even take a shot – the odds of winning are slim.
Yet, that’s exactly what happened to the USC Aiken men’s basketball team in a 82-77 win over Montevallo on Saturday. Ronald Zimmerman, averaging 18 points a game coming into the game for the Pacers (8-4, 4-1 Peach Belt Conference), racked up three fouls in the first eight minutes of the game and didn’t return until the start of the second half. He took his fourth foul less than five minutes into the final frame and played sparingly from there, only accumulating nine minutes on the night.
The team found a way to win anyway, with four other Pacers scoring in double digits. Head coach Vince Alexander said the win without big production from Zimmerman or Paul Larsen for much of the game said a lot about his team.
“I think that spoke volumes for our team,” he said. “It just goes to show the quality of our team and the depth we have.”
Re’Mon Nelson led the home team with 23 points and chipped in 11 assists. Several of those were alley oops to Santoine Butler, including two in the game’s opening two minutes. Butler finished with 21 points, a pair of 3-pointers and seven blocks on his 22nd birthday. Kinley Branch, who finished with 10 points, was also able to get vertical and catch a lob for a thunderous second-half dunk.
Nelson said the team saw in its preparation that the lob passes would be available.
“From that point, it was just for me, as a point guard, to read how they played it, and it was just open time after time,” he said, noting that the blocks were the most fitting birthday present for Butler. “He likes those.”
The first half was a back-and-forth affair, with USCA leading by as many as seven points early before Montevallo took over for a brief five-point lead. Helped by untimely fouls by the Falcons (8-5, 4-2), including an intentional foul on a made layup by Branch with 5 seconds left in the first half, the Pacers righted the ship and took a 36-29 lead into the locker room.
The home team led for much of the second half, trailing by a point for 20 seconds with around 11 minutes to go in the game, but the visitors still kept things tight. With 2:22 left in the game, the Falcons looked poised to give the Pacers a run for their money after cutting the lead to 72-69 on a pair of free throws by Troran Brown, who scored a game-high 28 points.
The Falcons even pushed the Pacers to the very end of the shot clock on the ensuing possession, but Nelson wasn’t fazed. He drilled a 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded to give USCA a six-point lead and quell the Falcons’ momentum.
Alexander said he knows not to worry when his senior leader has the ball without much time to work.
“Honestly, I’ve learned with (Nelson) that he’s going to do something,” he said. “You just have to let him make a good decision, and he’s going to make a good decision.”
From there, the free-throw line became the home team’s ally. The Falcons were able to score eight points in the final 41 seconds of the game. Brown had six of those, including a four-point play on a made 3-pointer with a foul and free throw, but it wasn’t enough.
Nelson connected on 1 of 2 attempts from the charity stripe, Larsen hit 4-of-4 down the stretch from the line and Jesse Seilern, who rounded out the double-digit scoring for the home team with 10, put the game away with a pair of free throws with 7 seconds left.
With the victory, the USCA was able to keep pace with Augusta State in the PBC East division standings and will now host Clayton State (7-6, 3-3) on Wednesday.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.