Itís very rare that the undercard occurs after the main event takes place. Barring the unexpected, that will be the case tonight at the USC Aiken Convocation Center. Thatís because the USCA men will face Clayton State at approximately 7:30 p.m. Or, shortly after the top-5 matchup between the schoolís womenís teams in what has the potential of being one of the most significant games of the season.
While the nightcap of the doubleheader doesnít feature two of the top-ranked teams in the nation, itís important for both teams. The Pacers (8-4, 4-1 Peach Belt Conference) have been an up-and-down team this season. While there have been more highs for the team currently in a three-way tie for first place in the PBC East Division with Augusta State and Armstrong Atlantic State, USCA has missed some opportunities to make whatís been a good start even better.
But the Pacers enter tonightís game on a good note. Coming off their first PBC loss at Columbus State, they returned home last Saturday and earned a hard-fought 82-77 win over a solid Montevallo squad. USCAís win was even bigger because it prevailed without a single point from Ronald Zimmerman, the teamís leading scorer on the season.
With one of the quickest and most accurate shots in all of college basketball, Zimmermanís averaging 16.5 points per game, 10th best in the PBC. But the Pacers were able to win without him factoring into the scorebook. Thatís because theyíre a balanced team that get significant contributions from a number of players.
In the win over Montevallo, senior point guard Reímon Nelson showed he isnít just a strong court general, heís also a potent scorer. He finished the win with 23 points and 11 assists and had a good connection with Santoine Butler, who had 21 points to go with 7 blocks. For the season, both Nelson and Butler are averaging 13.8 points per game, while Nelson is adding 7 assists per game to go with more than 3 rebounds and Butlerís posting more than 3 blocks and 6.5 rebounds per game.
Paul Larsen has also been a boon for USCA in his first year with the team since transferring from Mercer. Heís averaging more than a dozen points and 7 rebounds per game. Heís a contributor, along with Jesse Seilern and Kinley Branch, who both do a little of everything for the Pacers, combining to average 19 points per game.
That balanced scoring has made USCA one of the top offenses in the league, ranking third in the PBC with 84.8 points per game.
Tonightís game will offer an intriguing matchup, since Clayton State (7-6, 3-3) has one of the best defenses in the PBC. The Lakers allow just 66.8 points per game, third fewest in the conference. In spite of the pedestrian record, Clayton State is still very much in the race in a crowded PBC West Division. It helped its cause with an 85-80 win over North Georgia last Saturday, when Tony Dukes scored a team-high 21 points. He was especially effective beyond the 3-point arc, where he went 5-for-7.
Dukes is averaging a shade less than 12 points per game, making him one of two Lakers posting double digit point totals on the season. Forward Omari Murray leads the team in scoring, averaging 14.4 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, which is third best in the league. Heís shooting 63.7 from the field, which also ranks third in the PBC.
In this contrast of styles, the team that prevails in setting the tempo will likely win and further boost its momentum. Playing at home, the Pacers will want to ensure a victory as the heart of the PBC season is underway.
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.
What: USC Aiken menís basketball
Who: USCA (8-4, 4-1 PBC) vs. Clayton State (7-6, 3-3 PBC)
When: Today, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Convocation Center
USCA: Reímon Nelson, Sr. G. Nelson is coming off a double-double and the programís all-time leader in steals is getting closer to attaining that distinction in assists.
CLAYTON STATE: Tony Dukes, Sr. G. Dukes is the Lakersí top 3-point shooter and will need to have a good game outside if they expect to stay close with the potent Pacers.