AUGUSTA STATE 66, NO. 21 USC AIKEN 60
By JEREMY TIMMERMAN
For the second time this season, the No. 21 USC Aiken women’s basketball team faced a manageable deficit against Augusta State with less than a minute remaining. This time, there were no late-game heroics for the Pacers, as the Jaguars won 66-60 at the Convocation Center.
Senior captain Daniela Tarailo led the Pacers with 16 points, but Wednesday’s Senior Night performance didn’t have the desired result.
“I figured, shoot, I’ve been in a bad slump; I just have to let it go,” she said, adding that she wanted to make her family, friends and Pacer fans proud. “I didn’t want to let the last one slip away, but it did, and I gave it my all, though.”
The Pacers (19-6, 12-6 Peach Belt Conference) and Jaguars (20-5, 13-5) traded the lead early on. USCA took the upper hand with an 11-0 run that ended with 6:03 left in the first, giving it a 27-18 lead.
The visitors were quick to answer, though, in the form of a 12-2 stretch. It only ended when Tarailo put in a layup just before the half to give the Pacers a 31-30 halftime lead.
Head coach Mike Brandt said Tarailo has been putting in a great deal of effort to break through the increased defensive attention she’s seen since All-American Kayla Harris went down with a knee injury.
“She’s been fighting like crazy,” he said. “She’s been working so hard and working on her shots. … Defenses are keying on her; obviously, she’s our best shooter, and she had work for every point she got tonight.”
Unlike the Pacers’ 56-55 buzzer-beater win in Augusta earlier this month, Tarailo had help all along in Wednesday’s game.
Sophomore McKenzie Reese, who had little contribution to the earlier win before hitting a game-winning 3-pointer, scored 13 points that included eight in the second half. She also added a team-best seven rebounds.
The teams traded the lead for much of the second half, but Augusta State built a 63-57 lead – its largest of the game – with less than 20 seconds to play. That was when it looked as though Reese set the Pacers up for another memorable finish. She hit a quick 3-pointer to bring it back to a one-possession game and stirred thoughts of another memorable finish.
But the Pacers didn’t score again, and the Jags connected on three free throws to push the game to its final margin.
The Pacers also got 10 points from Porsha Martin. Brandt said USCA will need that balance and even better execution than the 34 percent it shot from the field going forward.
“Every player’s just got to step up, and I think it was better. It still wasn’t playing like we should or need to play, obviously, but each individual stepped up and played a little bit,” he said.
The Jaguars also had three double-digit scorers, led by Jemimah Ashby with 20. Taylor Ayers added 15 and Tanchelle Hollingsworth had 11.
The Pacers will next travel to play their regular-season finale at UNC Pembroke on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. They’ll need help in the form of an Augusta State loss to Flagler the same day for a shot at the top seed in the PBC’s East Division, but Brandt said the team’s focus starts with the Braves.
“The focus is UNC Pembroke. Every game that we win here or a game that we lose is making a difference in our regional standings,” he said, acknowledging that the team’s road to the NCAA Tournament wasn’t as clear as it once was. “We’re in the conference tournament, so we’re going to go in with the intentions of winning. That’s (at Columbus State) on a court that we played well on; it’s a court that we won it last year. We’re still the defending champions until someone knocks us off.”
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.