There are plenty of reasons today’s game between the USC Aiken men and Armstrong Atlantic is an important one.
When the Pacers (17-6, 13-3 Peach Belt Conference) host the Pirates (13-10, 9-7), they’ll be defending not only a home floor where they are 11-1 on the season but also a No. 1 ranking in the first Southeast Regional poll that came out earlier this week.
As if that weren’t enough, USCA is two games up on UNC Pembroke (18-8, 11-5) in the PBC East and 1 1/2 games up on Montevallo (16-8, 12-5) for the overall conference lead. A Pacer win and a Braves’ loss to to Flagler (11-13, 7-10) today would clinch the division and give the Pacers at least a share of their second straight regular-season PBC title.
On top of all that, there’s the element of revenge. When the two teams last met on Feb. 9, Armstrong came away with a 90-87 home win, the lone blemish in the last nine games for USCA.
In that game, the Pirates’ Aric Miller scored a staggering 39 points to lead the team to the win and shot better than his season average at 44 percent from the floor. Based on that, it’s no surprise that he leads the PBC in scoring with 23.8 points per game on the year.
The Pacers didn’t have a terrible game in Savannah, Ga., with Paul Larsen turning in a double-double at 23 points and 14 rebounds. Larsen is third in the league in rebounding with an average of 9.1 per contest. Re’mon Nelson also gave USCA 20 points in the game, and DeVontae Wright came off the bench to score 15 points.
What may have been the Pacers’ undoing in the loss was free-throw shooting. Second in the league with a 73.5 percent mark on the year, head coach Vince Alexander’s team shot only 66.7 percent from the charity stripe in Savannah at 18-of-27. Coupled with a 75 percent (27-of-36) effort from the Pirates – well ahead of their league-worst season average of 63.9 – the uncharacteristic makes and misses would more than explain the three-point Pirate victory.
The good news for the Pacers is that they’re shooting better than 77 percent from the free-throw line at home.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.