By JEREMY TIMMERMAN
In the men’s basketball matchup between USC Aiken and Clayton State, it looked early on like the Pacers might be in for a long night offensively. One impressive run later, the Pacers held a double-digit lead and didn’t trail again for the final 30 minutes of action in a 66-55 USCA victory.
Playing on their home court, the Pacers (9-4, 5-1 Peach Belt Conference) fell behind the visiting Lakers (7-7, 3-4) by a 12-3 margin a little more than five minutes into the game. Led by Paul Larsen, who had missed several shots early on, the Pacers went on a 23-4 run to take a 26-16 lead with 7:56 to go before halftime.
Larsen had nine points in the run and finished the night with 11 points and 14 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season.
Despite the performance, Pacer head coach Vince Alexander maintained that Larsen still has room for growth on the basketball court, pointing to an uncharateristic 1-for-5 effort from the free-throw line. The junior transfer came into the game averaging 78 percent from the charity stripe.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’m not a prophet or nothing, but I’ve seen kids like him,” Alexander said. “He’s going to get better. The more comfortable he gets, he’s going to get better.”
Larsen said his focus early was getting the Pacers a lead against a solid PBC foe.
“Definitely wanted to get the team going,” he said. “We knew they were like a tough, real competitive team, so we had to hit them first, like Coach always says.”
The Pacers kept the pedal to the floor, even though Larsen didn’t score the rest of the half. In all, the Pacers outscored the Lakers 35-8 over the final 15 minutes of the opening frame to go to the locker room with a 38-20 lead.
Alexander said the dominating stretch of play was a result of aggressive yet unselfish play on the offensive end of the floor.
“Well, I thought the ball movement was better. You know, I thought we started attacking and looking for other teammates,” he said. “I just thought we got into a rhythm of what we like to do – ball movement and other things.”
Laker head coach Gordon Gibbons did some things strategically to slow that game plan down in the second half. Helped by 23 free throws and 15 fouls whistled against the Pacers after halftime, his team kept the game respectable and cut the Pacer lead into single digits on several occasions.
Still, the Pacers got to the line 13 times in the second half themselves, and Jesse Seilern and Re’Mon Nelson quelled any chance for a Laker comeback from there. On the night, the duo scored 13 points each and shot a combined 10-for-12 from the charity stripe.
Kinley Branch scored 10 points to round out the double-digit scoring for the PBC East-leading Pacers, who will travel to play West Division leader Young Harris on Saturday.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.