No. 6 USC AIKEN 56, No. 24 AUGUSTA STATE 55
By JEREMY TIMMERMAN
AUGUSTA — With time expiring in the women’s basketball game between No. 6 USC Aiken and No. 24 Augusta State, it didn’t matter that the Pacers had trailed by five just 10 seconds before.
It didn’t matter that only two Pacers had made more than one field goal.
All that mattered was that the visitors were down two, and Mackenzie Reese had the ball with a look at the game-winning 3-point shot.
She buried it as the buzzer sounded, giving the Pacers (17-2, 10-2 Peach Belt Conference) a 56-55 win and sending the players, coaches and fans who made the trek across the Savannah River into a frenzy and shocking the Jaguars (15-3, 8-3).
“My mind’s still racing right now,” Reese, who finished with six points, said after the game at Christenberry Fieldhouse. “I knew the game wasn’t over yet, so just get the ball, and throw it at the basket.”
Before that point, the Pacers’ offense had been almost all Daniela Tarailo. The senior captain finished with 31 points on an 11-for-18 shooting effort that included five 3-pointers. The last one gave the Pacers a single-possession deficit with less than 6 seconds remaining to set up the game-winning shot.
After the longball, the Jaguars’ Tiffany Jaecks missed a crucial pair of free throws, allowing Reese the opportunity for heroics.
Tarailo’s biggest stretch came earlier in the second half. With the Pacers trailing 46-42, she got a steal and went end-to-end for a traditional three-point play on a made layup and foul. Then she immediately stole the ball back and nailed a 3-pointer to give the visitors a brief lead.
While the Pacers fell behind again after that, Tarailo said the emotion of that series was important for her and her teammates.
“Games like this, I think it’s good to show some emotion to your teammates and pick your teammates up,” she said after noting that she’s not normally one to get “hyped up.”
Porsha Martin also scored in double-digits, adding 12 points for the Pacers, who led by as many as 11 points in the first half before settling for a 24-20 halftime lead.
Like many of her teammates, 6-foot-5 post Tiffani Moody struggled offensively with only two points, but she led the way with 10 rebounds.
The Pacers were limited to a 45.8 percent mark from the floor but hit 6 of their 11 3-point attempts.
Head coach Mike Brandt said that the gut-check win could come up big for his team down the road in the Peach Belt Conference and, hopefully, postseason tournaments.
“That’s very important because these are hard to simulate in practice ... the intensity and the crowd,” he said. “So for us, especially to be down and coming back, tournament time or later in the season ... you can talk to them about, ‘We’ve done in before, we can do it again.’”
He also pointed out that Tarailo brought the ball up the floor for the game-winning possession but passed the ball to a younger teammate who had only three points in the game.
“One thing I think that was most important that may be overlooked is Daniela was bringing the ball up the floor,” he said. “Very unselfishly she passed the ball to an open player; Mackenzie stopped, popped the shot, which is a great for a sophomore. That’s a huge confidence-builder there – hitting the game-winner in a clutch game.”
Augusta State also struggled offensively in the game, limitted to 42 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from beyond the arc. Tanchelle Hollingsworth led the Jags with 17 points, and Taylor Ayers added 15.
USCA will attempt to ride its wave of confidence into three more road games, starting Wednesday at Lander.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.