By JEREMY TIMMERMAN
The prevailing wisdom when a team loses one of its top players is that everyone else has to step up. In Saturday’s 69-58 win over Francis Marion, the No. 6 USC Aiken women did just that.
Four players finished in double digit scoring for the Pacers (13-2, 8-2 Peach Belt Conference), led by senior Mia Antoine who matched her career high with 16 points. Antoine said scoring isn’t usually her main focus, but she’s aware that roles have changed since preseason All-American forward Kayla Harris went down with a season-ending knee injury.
“I don’t put a lot of emphasis on scoring a lot of the time, but since Kayla’s gone now, were all trying to be aggressive,” Antoine said. “It’s just kind of cool to be the leading scorer.”
Not far behind was fellow team captain Daniela Tarailo with 15 points, that included a 4-for-7 effort from beyond the 3-point line. Porsha Martin and Mackenzie Reese rounded out the scoring leaders with 11 points each, and Martin led the team with eight rebounds.
The third USCA captain, junior point guard Brittany Hill, had eight points to go with a team-best six assists.
Head coach Mike Brandt said the balance was key to establishing an early lead, also pointing to the team defense and individual offensive performances from players like Antoine.
“I thought we played exceptionally well. We got up by 25 points, and I thought they did a great job defensively,” he said. “When the defense plays well, which we normally do, it’s just nice to have a few people step up offensively.”
The Pacers never trailed, opening the game on a 10-3 run before the Patriots (7-8, 2-7) made a stand and cut the Pacer lead to 12-9 with 11:41 left in the opening frame. USCA went to work from there, expanding its lead to 13 before it eventually settled at 34-25 at the half.
Antoine had 12 of her points in the first half, but her final four were part of a Pacer run that put the game almost out of reach early in the second half. A little more than five minutes after the break, the home team had used a 17-4 run to build a 22-point advantage.
The Patriots tried to make a game of it late with a 13-0 run. But that ended with a Tarailo 3-pointer with 1:07 left in the game, and the Pacer lead proved to be insurmountable.
Briana Robinson led the Patriots with a game-best 18 points. She hit 3 of 6 3-point attempts.
Up next for the PBC East-leading Pacers is a Thursday home game against Flagler before a road contest against Augusta State, which remains a half game behind USCA for first place in the PBC East Division.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.