When the men’s basketball teams from USC Aiken and Augusta State play head-to-head, it’s a big deal. The Pacers and Jaguars have been two of the most successful Peach Belt Conference teams over the past decade and have waged some epic contests. The games have been memorable even when one of the teams hasn’t been playing its best because the rivalry brings out their best.
That could be the situation in tonight’s game. USCA enters the contest – slated to tip-off at 7:30 p.m. in Christenberry Fieldhouse – on a roll. The Pacers (13-5, 9-2) have won four games in a row and six of their past seven to move into first place in PBC East Division. They currently hold a 1½ game lead over second-place Armstrong Atlantic State and have defeated their past three opponents by an average of more than 18 points.
The Jaguars (10-7, 5-5) are a team in transition and have struggled greatly the past few weeks. The troubles started when Harold Doby, one of the Jags’ leading scorers and rebounders, was lost because he’s accused of having a gun on campus and banned from entering the campus while his case is pending. In six games without Doby, Augusta State has gone 2-4 and fallen from the top of the standings and dropped out of the national rankings, where they climbed as high as No. 12 in December.
Although the Jags have lost four of six, they’ve been competitive in every game, with the largest margin of defeat being four points. Even without Doby’s 11.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, Augusta State still has three players with double-digit scoring averages. It’s led by Ryan Weems’ 15.5 points per game, while Devon Wright-Nelson and Devonte Thomas are adding approximately 13 and 12 points, respectively. The Jags also have a dynamic player in D’Angelo Boyce, who’s averaging 8.5 points and 6.5 assists per game.
Even with all of those contributors, Augusta State ranks in the bottom half of PBC teams in average points per game (72.2) and field-goal percentage (42.6). It has found success through defense. It leads the PBC in field goal percentage allowed, forcing its opponents to convert less than 40 percent of its shots from the floor. That makes the Jags one of the hardest teams in the league to score on, holding opponents to less than 67 points per game.
That makes tonight’s game a contrast in styles. USCA is at its best when its playing a fast pace and posting high point totals. The Pacers are second in the PBC in field-goal percentage (49.1) and points per game (84.4).
They’ve got five players averaging more than 10 points per game and two more just a shade below that figure. That balance means that any player can lead USCA in scoring on a given night but also establishes that the Pacers won’t struggle greatly if one of the top guns is held under wraps. Guards like Re’mon Nelson, DeVontae Wright, Jesse Seilern, Kinley Branch and Ronald Zimmerman can break down their defenders and cause chaos, while USCA also looks comfortable throwing the ball inside to Paul Larsen and Santoine Butler.
This could be a special night for Nelson, the Pacers’ senior point guard. The player who’s second in the PBC by averaging 6.8 assists per game to go along with 14.1 points per game has never won at Christenberry Fieldhouse. A win would be even sweeter if Nelson hits another milestone. This season, he’s already become USCA’s all-time leader in steals and passed the 1,000-point threshold.
With two assists tonight, he’ll pass Eric Dugans as the program’s all-time leader in that category. Nelson currently has 438 in his career.
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 men’s basketball
Who: USCA (13-5, 9-2 PBC) vs. Augusta State (10-7, 5-5 PBC)
When: Today, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Christenberry Fieldhouse, Augusta
USCA: Devontae Wright, Jr. G. Wright missed eight games earlier this season because of injuries but has emerged as a potent playmaker who can score (9.4 ppg) and set up teammates for easy baskets (3.7 apg).
AUGUSTA STATE: Devon Wright-Nelson, So. F. Wright-Nelson leads the Jags with 7.4 rebounds per game and is second behind Ryan Weems with 13 points per game.