The USC Aiken men’s basketball team will return to action tonight in a matchup of division leaders in the Peach Belt Conference. The East Division leading Pacers (9-4, 5-1) start a two-game road swing playing Young Harris (10-3, 5-1), the team on top of the standings in the PBC West. The game will be played at the YHC Basketball Arena with tip-off scheduled for 7:30 p.m.


In their first season in the PBC, the Mountain Lions have won six in a row and 10 of their past 11 games. Their lone league loss was a 76-74 setback at Armstrong Atlantic State, a team currently tied with Augusta State for second place in the PBC East behind USCA. Since the loss, Young Harris has won its past six games in a decisive fashion, prevailing by an average of more than 12 points per victory. Their last game was a 10-point win over Columbus State.


The Mountain Lions’ formula for success has been simple – outscore the opponent. They’re averaging a shade less than 84 points per game and feature five players with double-digit scoring averages. The team leader is senior guard Malcolm Jackson, whose average of 20.5 points per game is second best in the PBC. He’s a threat to score any time the ball in his hands and is taking more than seven 3-pointers per game.


Jackson shares the wealth on offense in large part because of the fine play of point guard Vince Martin. The junior’s leading the league with 8.4 assists per game, feeding the ball to Jackson as well as the PBC’s third leading scorer, Frank Adams (18.5 ppg). Martin’s also a scoring threat, ranking ninth in the league with more than 16 points per game and also regularly gets the ball to Steve Viterbo and Bryson Robertson, who are combining to score more than 20 points per game.


The Pacers can come close to matching the Mountain Lions’ firepower. They’re averaging 83.3 points per game and have four players scoring in double digits, with two more posting more than 9 points per game. But the difference could be USCA’s defense. It’s second in the PBC in field goal percentage allowed, limiting opponents less than 43 percent shooting from the floor.


The Pacers haven’t overwhelmed opponents the way the Mountain Lions have, but they’ve been just as effective in league play, posting impressive back-to-back wins over Montevallo and Clayton State. They’ve got a balanced unit that plays well on both ends of the floor, inside and out.


A win tonight could get the Pacers on a roll as they start focusing on more games against PBC East foes, but it won’t be easy against an unfamiliar opponent, away from the Convocation Center against a team that can light it up.


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 (9-4, 5-1 PBC) at Young Harris (10-3, 5-1)


Where: YHC Basketball Arena; Young Harris, Ga.


When: Today, 7:30 p.m.


STAR WATCH


USCA: Paul Larsen, Jr. F. Larsen’s hitting 58 percent of his field goal attempts for a dozen points per game and is among the PBC’s top rebounders with more than 8 boards a contest.


Young Harris: Vince Martin, Jr. G. The PBC leader in assists (8.4 per game) is also one of its top 10 scorers (16.5 per game).