Pacers begin road stretch with Pirates

Staff photo by Kyle Dawson Hendrix Emu (23) posts up against Francis Marion. Emu scored 11 points, his sixth game out of 10 scoring in double figures, and pulled down six rebounds against the Patriots.

Minutes after USC Aiken’s dramatic 74-72 victory over Francis Marion Saturday, head coach Vince Alexander said that he thought his team will start progressing. That progression will be necessary throughout the rest of the season – the Pacers currently sit at 5-5 in Peach Belt Conference play, fourth in the East Division – and especially during an upcoming stretch of four road games in the next five overall, which begins tonight at Armstrong State.

USCA (10-9, 5-5) won all five of its home games in January, the first of which was an 87-71 win against the Pirates (5-11, 3-7) on Jan. 3. Tonight’s game will take place at Armstrong State, where it has put together a little home winning streak of its own; the Pirates have won three straight in their gym.

Five Pacers scored in double figures in the Jan. 3 win, led by Dominic Early’s 19 points. Early has been a constant force, scoring 10 or more points in 16 of 19 games, including a team-high 19 Saturday against Francis Marion. Early iced the Patriots at the free throw line, going 11-of-15 at the charity stripe to seal the win.

Alexander credited his team’s clutch performances at the free throw line as well as on the glass Saturday. The former was true in the last meeting with Armstrong State, as the Pacers went 33-of-44 from the free throw line while the Pirates were just 17-of-29. Armstrong State had the advantage in rebounding, though, and Alexander was unhappy after the game about the Pirates’ 23 offensive rebounds.

Saturday’s win could potentially be a turning point for the Pacers this season. Alexander called it a “character-building game”, just minutes after pulling his team away from a brief midcourt scuffle with the Patriots after the final buzzer.

The Pacers have gotten a boost from two recent additions to their lineup, Hendrix Emu and Arbry Butler. Emu regained his eligibility in time for USCA’s Dec. 17 game against Georgia College and has scored in double figures in six of 10 games. Butler made his debut a game earlier, suiting up for his first college game in five years on Dec. 13 against King. His transition has taken some time, but Saturday’s game may have been his best yet; Butler scored 11 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked three shots in 21 minutes.

Emu and Butler will be called upon to help Early on the boards against Armstrong State, which has out-rebounded opponents by nearly nine boards per game during its current home winning streak.

At a glance

Who: USCA (10-9, 5-5 PBC) at Armstrong State (5-11, 3-7)

Where: Alumni Arena at Armstrong Sports Complex; Savannah, Georgia

When: 5:30 p.m.