No. 4 USC AIKEN 91 ALLEN 53
The USC Aiken men's basketball team never trailed in a dominating win over Allen University, opening the 2013-14 home schedule with a 91-53 win over the NAIA program from Columbia.
The fourth-ranked Pacers (3-1) rode their strong inside-outside game to build an early lead and gradually add to it in Tuesday's 38-point victory. Paul Larsen was a dominant force in the paint, and Ron Zimmerman took the top off the Fighting Yellow Jackets' defense with his touch from outside. The seniors and All-Peach Belt Conference first-team selections tied for game-best honors with 19 points apiece.
“He's tough,” USCA head coach Vince Alexander said of Larsen, who also had 10 rebounds for a double-double. “He's a good player and tough to handle one-on-one. But if opponents try to double team him, then they could leave Zimmerman open, or leave Kinley (Branch) open. We try to utilize all the weapons we've got and be successful.”
Larsen's strong effort on the boards was part of the Pacers' overall domination in that area. They outrebounded Allen 43-25, a total that included 18 offensive rebounds that led to 24 second-chance points. The Pacers scored 28 points in the paint and made it a point of emphasis to get the ball inside from the get-go.
“My teammates were looking for me in the post. I try to get in good position,” said Larsen, who scored 12 of his points in the first half, logging the majority of his minutes early on. “We came out with a lot of energy. We were ready to go.”
Larsen plays a physical and aggressive brand of basketball. While the new enforcement of touch fouls could be an issue this season, it paid dividends against Allen. Larsen was a fixture at the free-throw line, where he connected on 11 of 14 shots.
The ability to operate in the paint led to lots of Jacket fouls and 44 foul shots by USCA.
“Free-throw wise, we've got to get better,” Alexander said of his squad which connected on 30 shots from the charity stripe (68 percent) in the game where both teams were whistled for a combined 48 fouls. “I thought the guys did a good job. The played well, rebounded well and played together. Last year, the key to our success was team basketball, and we worked on that tonight.”
With the Jackets focused on trying to stop the Pacers inside, that created more open looks from long distance. Fifteen of Zimmerman's 19 points came via the 3-point shot, as he connected on 5 of 14 attempts (35 percent). As a team, the Pacers hit 11 3-pointers, with Branch sinking four.
He finished the game with 14 points, leading the USCA reserves. The Pacers got 37 points from their bench, as all 10 players in uniform logged significant time – with nine of them scoring. Santoine Butler wasn't one of those players as Alexander continues to sit the athletic big man for a disciplinary issue.
The Pacers didn't need Butler against Allen, as they got contributions from a number of players. That included starting point guard DeVontae Wright and center Alvin Brown. They were the glue players for USCA, doing a little bit of everything. Wright finished with eight points, five assists, three rebounds, two steals and a block. Brown was equally busy in his 20 minutes of action, posting three points, three assists, two rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks – increasing his season total to 26 in four games.
Jadia Johnson led the Jackets with 10 points. They made 41 percent of their shots (17-for-41) in the loss.
The Pacers looked comfortable on their home floor, where they've been close to invincible the past few seasons. Alexander said it was nice to play at the Convocation Center after playing on the road for a pair of exhibitions against Mississippi and South Carolina before playing three games in three days last weekend in Puerto Rico.
“Coming home was great for us. We love it here. We have great fans and a great atmosphere,”said Alexander, who was quick to point out the trip to Puerto Rico was an important for his team. “I'm not going to deny that Puerto Rico was nice, but we had a great time bonding.”
The Pacers will look to continue to play together and win their fourth in a row on Friday, when they play host to Tuskegee.
“I'm looking forward to it,” Larsen said. “If we play Pacer basketball, we'll be fine. That is playing hard, playing together and playing smart.”
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.