Winners of six games in a row and eight of nine overall, the USC Aiken men’s basketball team is clicking on all cylinders. The Pacers (15-5, 11-2 Peach Belt Conference) are alone in first place in the East Division and can put a stranglehold on the standings with a win today. That’s because they’re playing Armstrong Atlantic State, one of two teams tied for second place.
The Pirates – and UNC Pembroke, which USCA beat 86-79 in their first meeting this season – are 2½ games out of first place. A Pacer victory tonight at Alumni Arena on Armstrong’s Savannah, Ga., campus would put them in excellent position to vie for the PBC’s top regular-season record and one of the top berths heading into the conference tournament.
In order to get that critical win, USCA must contain Armstrong (12-7, 8-4) guard Aric Miller. That won’t be easy since the senior isn’t just his team’s leading scorer, he’s the most prolific point producer in the PBC this season. Miller’s averaging 24.6 points per game and has tallied double-digit point totals in every game this season. He’s scored more than 20 points 13 times this season, exceeded 30 five times and is coming off a 41-point performance in a Feb. 2 loss at UNCP.
Two more Pirates are averaging more than 10 points per game, with Antroine Williford – who’s one of the PBC’s top rebounders at 8.6 per game – and Kenny Bellinger II combined to score approximately 21 points per contest. As a team, the Pirates are only making 43 percent of their field-goal attempts, but they’re limiting opponents to 40 percent – the second-lowest in the PBC.
The Pacers will likely need to continue playing the up-tempo, aggressive style that has worked so well for them in the 2013 portion of their schedule. For the season, they’re averaging 83 points per game on 49 percent shooting – good for second in the PBC in both areas. They’re exceeding that point total during the current winning streak, and that includes a 76-point performance against Augusta State, the league’s top defensive team.
USCA has leaned on veterans and newcomers alike to hit its stride. Longtime Pacers Re’mon Nelson, Ronald Zimmerman and Jesse Seilern are all scoring in double figures this season. They’re also facilitators who set plays up for teammates like Paul Larsen, Santoine Butler and Kinley Branch. They’re balanced, inside and out, and in the past six games, six different Pacers have either tied for or scored the most points in that game. Only Larsen has accomplished the feat twice – in the past two games – as the Mercer transfer is starting to control the inside, where he’s third in the PBC with 8.8 rebounds per game to go with 12.4 points per game.
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 (15-5, 11-2 PBC) vs. Armstrong Atlantic (12-7, 8-4 PBC)
WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Alumni Arena; Savannah, Ga.
USCA: DeVontae Wright, Jr. G. Since coming back from injuries to his wrist and back, Wright has emerged as a playmaker and is averaging more than 8 points, 3 assists and 2 rebounds per game.
ARMSTRONG ATLANTIC: Aric Miller, Sr. G. Miller’s the PBC’s top scorer, averaging 24.6 points per game.