EVANSVILLE, Ind. — The deepest run in program history came to an end for the No. 5 USC Aiken men's basketball team on Thursday.
The Pacers fell 86-83 to national No. 7 West Liberty in the NCAA Division II Final Four, but that didn't erase the magnitude of what the team achieved this season.
Athletic Director Randy Warrick grouped the accomplishment with the golf team's three straight NCAA Division II national championships from 2004-06.
“I think it's one of the biggest achievements that we've ever had in athletics,” he said from Evansville, Ind.
While the benefits of such a run to the sport involved are obvious, they don't stop there. Warrick said the recognition of playing on a national stage could help the department as a whole.
“I think it helps all of our different sports,” he said. “When you're successful, you get a lot of publicity.”
Warrick estimated that more than 100 people came to Evansville to cheer on the Pacers, an extension of support the team has seen at home for years. He said that, especially since the basketball teams moved their games to the Convocation Center in 2007, Pacer basketball games have been a priority in the community.
“I know it means a lot to the coaches and the players to see how many people are following them and supporting them and cheering them on to victory,” Warrick said.
Like Warrick, USCA Chancellor Sandra Jordan made the trip to Evansville, and she said she “couldn't be prouder” of the way the team has played this year.
She also noted that the team's 10 seniors would all be graduating with degrees, highlighting the diverse efforts of the players. She said the university strives to emphasize wellness and citizenship on top of academics.
“It helps us remember that what we're about is the whole education of the student,” she said.
Describing the players as “gentlemen,” Jordan said she's proud of the way they conduct themselves on the court, with respect for each other, their opponents and the officials.
“That's who we are as an institution,” she said. “They become almost a symbol of our values.”
Jeremy Timmerman is a sports writer for the Aiken Standard and has a journalism degree from Mercer University. Follow him on Twitter @ASJTimm.
Staff photo by Jeremy Timmerman USC Aiken athletic director Randy Warrick, left, and Chancellor Dr. Sandra Jordan cheer on the Pacers prior to Thursday’s Final Four game against West Liberty.×
Staff photo by Jeremy Timmerman USC Aiken’s Ron Zimmerman (13) releases a shot against the defense of West Liberty’s Kelvin Goodwin (23).×
Staff photo by Jeremy Timmerman Samantha Alexander holds a picture of her father, USC Aiken head coach Vince Alexander, during the Pacers' Final Four game against West Liberty.×