The USC Aiken men’s basketball team isn’t coming off its best game of the season, but it’s 86-78 victory over visiting Young Harris might have been its most important contest to date.


The 15th-ranked Pacers weren’t playing at their highest level throughout, even trailing by 11 points. But they were able to rally for a win that improved their record to 14-2, and 6-0 against Peach Belt Conference opponents because of a tremendous defensive performance, and a balanced scoring attack that didn’t just see numerous players contribute, but they were unstoppable down the stretch, with so many different Pacers stepping up to propel the team.


If they can harness the best elements of that performance tonight, the Pacers could be in line for another victory.


They’ll play host to North Georgia in a MLK Day holiday game. Tip-off for the contest at the Convocation Center is set for approximately 7:30 p.m., following a contest between the women’s teams.


In the win over Young Harris, USCA was led by DeVontae Wright’s game-high 21 points, in addition to chipping in five rebounds and four assists. For the season, he’s averaging 13 points, four rebounds and five assists per game.


Ronald Zimmerman added 16 points, just a shade less than his season average of 16.9, buoyed by nearly four made 3-pointers. Rick Alderman (5.1), Jesse Seilern (7.8), Santoine Butler (5.1) and Paul Larsen (12.4) combined for 33 points in the win, showing off the Pacers’ versatility.


The stat that was the most impressive coming out of the win was the blocks recorded by Alvin Brown. The senior leads the nation with an amazing average of five rejections per game.


That makes North Georgia’s pursuit of a victory a tall task. The Nighthawks (6-7, 3-4) have been inconsistent this season and are coming off a lopsided 97-71 loss at GRU Augusta, the team USCA is tied with for first place in the East Division. North Georgia is in fourth in the West Division.


The good news for the Nighthawks is with an average of 85.5 points per game, they’re one of the top scoring teams in the PBC. The bad news is they’re allowing opponents to score 87.8 points per game.


North Georgia has five players averaging at least 9.5 points per game, topped by Ishmael Hollis’ 20.5, making him the league leader. Lamar Richardson (12.8), Chris Tanzy (11.0), Travis Core (10.2) and Corey Green (9.5) are also capable scorers helping North Georgia shoot 47.8 percent from the field, including 39.6 percent from 3-point range.


The Nighthawks biggest issue is their defense is allowing opponents to score at an equally high rate. They supplement opponents’ offenses with too many turnovers and are also being outrebounded. That isn’t an ideal formula heading into a game with the Pacers who have shown an amoebalike ability to adjust their across-the-board strengths to exploit opponents. If the averages hold up, look for a lot of points and another win for the Pacers.


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.


TODAY’S GAME


What: USC Aiken Men’s basketball


Who: North Georgia (6-7, 3-4) at USCA (14-2, 6-0)


Where: Convocation Center


When: 7:30 p.m.