The USC Aiken men’s basketball team can focus on only facing Peach Belt Conference teams in the East Division for the rest of the regular season. That’s because the Pacers (11-5, 7-2) have completed the portion of their schedule loaded with teams from the West Division and have come through that challenge in good position.


They’re in first place in the East Division, a half game ahead of Armstrong Atlantic State, and have won four of their past five games. Now they can turn their attention toward winning the division and clinching one of the top spots in the PBC Tournament. They start the stretch run against a team they’ve already beaten this season.


USCA will play host to Francis Marion at the Convocation Center tonight, with tip-off scheduled for 7:30. It’s a rematch of a Dec. 17 showdown, when the Pacers went to Florence and routed the Patriots, 108-79. In that game, USCA had its best offensive output of the season as four Pacers scored in double figures, with three of them totaling at least 22 points. That was the second of six consecutive losses for Francis Marion (6-8, 2-6) which is in sixth place in the East Division.


The Patriots have won two of their past three games and remain the highest-scoring team in the PBC. They’re averaging a shade less than 92 points per game, making them far and away the most prolific scoring team in the league. They’ve got three players averaging double figure point totals on the season, led by Evrik Gary’s 15.9 per game. Gary’s also the team’s top rebounder, while Dustin Jones (14.9) and Markcus Falley (13.8) are also scoring in double figures.


Francis Marion’s average against only PBC opponents is considerably less, as it’s more in the middle of the pack with just 75 points per game.


But the Patriots’ biggest problem is that they’re the most porous defensive team in the PBC. Overall, they’re surrendering more than 89 points per game, and that number isn’t much better in league-only competition, surrendering a league-worst 79 points per game.


That doesn’t bode well for tonight’s matchup with a Pacer team that can get up and down the court as good as any in the league.


USCA is second in PBC games, with more than 83 points per game. It’s coming off an 87-point performance in Thursday’s win over Georgia College, when nine players scored in the win, three in double figures. Leading the way was Re’mon Nelson, who totaled 18 points. The senior point guard passed the 1,000-point plateau in the victory, becoming just the 10th USCA player to hit that milestone.


Already the program’s all-time leader in steals, Nelson also had seven assists in the win to move into second place in the Pacers’ all-time list. Nelson has 425 assists in his four-year career and needs just 15 more to become USCA’s all-time leader in the category. Going against a subpar Francis Marion defense, there’s a good chance he’ll get a lot closer to that number tonight.


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 (11-5, 7-2 PBC) vs. Francis Marion (6-8, 2-6 PBC)


Where: Convocation Center


When: Today, 7:30 p.m.


STAR WATCH


USCA: Santoine Butler, Jr. F. Butler scored a game-best 27 points in the Pacers first game against the Patriots this season and is averaging 13.1 points per game this season, third-best on the team.


FRANCIS MARION: Evrik Gary, Jr. G. Gary’s leading the Patriots in scoring (15.9) and rebounding (6.1) and is third on the team with 2.5 assists per game.