Heading into last weekend, the USC Aiken men’s basketball team was one of the hottest in the Peach Belt Conference. The Pacers were on a six-game winning streak that vaulted them into first place in the East Division, and one of those wins came against arch-rival Augusta State. The win was especially sweet because it came at Christenberry Fieldhouse, a place that USCA hadn’t won a game since 2002.
Then came a road game against Armstrong Atlantic State, a showdown between the East Division’s first- and second-place teams. The Pacers couldn’t hold on to a lead that was as large as 11 points, falling on the road to the Pirates, who are now just 1½ games behind in the standings.
They’ll try to reclaim their winning ways tonight, when they travel to Flagler Gymnasium in St. Augustine, Fla. That’s where USCA (15-6, 11-3) will face Flagler (10-11, 6-8), with tip-off scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
The Saints are battling for a berth in the PBC Tournament, and are currently in fifth place in the East Division. They were on the wrong end of an 84-64 score in their previous meeting with USCA. That setback was part of a three-game losing skid, which Flagler snapped Saturday with a win over UNC Pembroke. In that win, Saints big man Ante Gospic led the way with 25 points and 14 rebounds. That, combined with a 23-point, nine-rebound game against Armstrong earned Gospic PBC Player of the Week honors.
The 6-foot-8 senior forward leads the PBC in rebounding, is fourth in free throws made and points per game and is ninth in field goal percentage. He was hard to stop in the loss to USCA, posting 21 points and nine rebounds. His big effort was negated by a strong performance by Pacer big men Santoine Butler and Paul Larsen, who combined for 21 points and 22 rebounds in that victory.
Larsen has emerged as the season has gone on as one of the best players in the PBC, standing out on a very balanced and talented USCA squad. Larsen’s averaging 13 points and nine rebounds per game this season. He has picked up his scoring as of late, leading the Pacers in points in the past three games with an average of approximately 22 points in those contests. He’s remained a force on the boards, pulling down an average of 11 rebounds per game.
His emergence makes the Pacers even tougher to stop, with tremendous skill players on the perimeter. If Re’mon Nelson (13.7 points and 6.6 assists per game) and Ronald Zimmerman (15.2 points per game and 81 made 3-pointers) continue to mesh with Larsen, USCA should beat Flagler and put itself in good position for a run at the PBC title.
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 (15-6, 11-3 PBC) vs. Flagler (10-11, 6-8 PBC)
When: Flagler Gymnasium; Today, 7:30 p.m.
Where: St. Augustine, Fla.
USCA: Paul Larsen, Jr. F. Larsen has led the Pacers in scoring the past three games, in which he’s averaging 22 points and 11 rebounds per game.
FLAGLER: Ante Gospic, Sr. F. The reigning PBC Player of the Week averaged more than 24 points and 11 rebounds in his past two games.