No. 8 USC Aiken Pacer men roar back for title with win over GRU Augusta
No. 8 USC AIKEN 82 GRU AUGUSTA 73
AUGUSTA — Both GRU Augusta and USC Aiken went on runs in the men's basketball game Wednesday. The Pacers' run proved decisive, though, as the nation's No. 8 team beat its rival 82-73 on the road.
The win earned the Pacers (25-3, 17-1 Peach Belt Conference) the outright regular-season PBC title and avenged an earlier loss to the Jaguars (21-6, 14-4) this season.
“It speaks volumes of how blessed we really are,” said head coach Vince Alexander after clinching at least a share of the conference title for the third consecutive season.
In the first half at Christenberry Fieldhouse, the visitors didn't seem headed for the win. After leading in the game's early minutes, the Pacers went ice cold, and the Jaguars went on a 27-3 run to lead 39-19 with less than two minutes to go before halftime.
Ron Zimmerman connected came back on the floor for the Pacers after some early foul trouble to hit the first of two late 3-pointers for USCA. Still, GRU Augusta took a 41-25 lead into the break.
“I don't think we were passing the ball and playing team basketball,” Alexander said of the halftime deficit.
The Pacers struggled to make a dent in the Jaguar lead for the first few minutes of the second half, before Zimmerman and fellow senior guard DeVontae Wright took over.
With his team down 48-36 with a little more than 15 minutes remaining, Zimmerman connected on a 3-pointer and got fouled. He also made the ensuing free throw, pulling his team within double digits and fueling the visitors' fire.
“We just needed to be resilient and get a little spark for us,” Zimmerman said.
From there, he and Wright led a Pacer run that turned the sizeable hole into a 55-52 lead.
While the Pacers were catching fire, the Jaguars started melting down. The bench received both a warning and a technical foul, and Devonte Thomas was also whistled for a technical. The team was assessed a pair of intentional fouls, and Roman Hill got a double-technical and an ejection with 1:33 to go.
The Pacers were whistled for 24 personal fouls to GRU Augusta's 34 but weren't hit with any of the more egregious violations.
“We talked about that coming in here, that we were going to keep our composure,” Alexander said.
Wright took a bulk of the free throws for those key infractions. He took three when the Jaguars were assessed a technical on the heels of a traditional three-point play, and he got six attempts from the charity stripe when Hill was sent to the locker room for refusing to let go of Wright after a late foul.
“I had the confidence of my coaches on the sidelines, my teammates,” said Wright of the crucial free throws.
He completed 16 of 19 attempts on the way to 26 points, and Zimmerman had 19. Jesse Seilern had 14, and Alexander said he was aware of the senior tandem's impact on the game.
“It's a tremendous thing for us to have those guys and have them lead us like that,” he said.
Zimmerman, who said his team “put our hearts on the line” to hold on for the victory, said Alexander's expectations for he, Wright and Seilern have been clear and lofty.
“Our coach told us to be the best guards in the country,” he said. “We've been playing together for so long, we just clicked.”
The five-point play was especially costly for the Jaguars. They had survived the Pacer storm to tie the game again at 62 and traded buckets, but the quick five-point swing proved to be beginning of the end.
If that didn't seal the Pacer win, the set of six free throws Wright got on Hill's ejection to give the visitors a seven-point lead with 90 seconds left did the trick.
The Pacers will now host UNC Pembroke on Saturday to end the season, while GRU will host Flagler before both team's head to Columbus, Ga., for the PBC Tournament.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University. Follow him on Twitter @ASJTimm.
Editor's note: The points for Ron Zimmerman and Jesse†Seilern were incorrect in a previous version of this story. The Aiken Standard regrets the error.