USC AIKEN 88, FLAGLER 79
USC Aiken men's basketball coach Mark Vanderslice knew his team was in for a unique challenge Wednesday night.
Flagler boasts the Peach Belt Conference's top 3-point shooting offense, one that can generate points in a hurry. The Saints can get out in front of teams quickly if they're hot, or they can make up a deficit without wasting much time if they fall behind.
Unless, of course, they fall behind by too much and can't get stops at the other end. USCA made sure it took care of both ends of that equation, leading by as many as 20 points on its way to an 88-79 win to move to 7-0 in PBC play.
"Tonight was a tough, hard-fought battle against a good-coached team," said Vanderslice. "They have great players, great shooters. They're very proficient from beyond the 3-point line. I think about half of their shots overall are from 3. They make about 13 a game.
"But for us it wasn't a matter of how many shots they made, it was about the percentages to which we could subdue them. And we won the rebounding battle by 13, so it allowed us to get out and play fast, play our style. They did a great job, but fortunately for us tonight, a good conference win, we did a little bit better."
Those 3-point attempts came in bunches, true to form. Thirty-five of Flagler's 72 shot attempts came from beyond the arc, and the Saints connected on 10 of them.
The Pacers (11-6, 7-0), on the other hand, shot 50 percent from the floor for the game and led for nearly the entire 40 minutes. Still, Flagler kept fighting back.
Faison Brock was an efficient 9-for-13 from the floor and had a game-high 26 points to go along with nine rebounds. He scored 18 points in the first half to help the Pacers build a 12-point lead at the break.
Brock said his high level of play came thanks to some advanced scouting. The Pacers planned well for this match-up, and he took full advantage of that preparation.
"At practice, (Vanderslice) was telling us how certain plays would be open, how they would guard it," he said. "He said don't alter the shot, don't try to draw the foul, don't try to draw contact. Just go up and lay it up or shoot your normal shot. If they foul you, they foul you. If not, you make it. That was really the key."
Gus Rowland added 22 points, Dhieu Deing had 14 and Shaquan Jules had 10 for the Pacers, who improved to 8-1 on their home floor this season.
USCA opened the second half on a 16-8 run to go ahead by 20 with 14:55 remaining, but Flagler just wouldn't go away.
Gedi Juozapaitis, who came into the game third in the PBC in scoring and first in rebounding, had 24 points and five rebounds to lead the Saints. Damerit Brown scored 17 points, Chris Metzger had 14, and Derrick Ellis Jr. had 12.
Jouzapaitis drilled a 3-pointer with 3:21 to get the Saints to within eight, but they wouldn't get any closer than seven down the stretch.
The Pacers used an 8-0 run to break a 7-all tie in the opening minutes, then turned a Brock 3-pointer and three straight points from Robert Hill into a 21-9 lead with 12:14 left in the first half. The Pacers pushed the tempo and were able to score in bunches early to build a big lead.
"For me, I like to get out and run in a fast-paced game. Not only me, but for the team," Rowland said. "One of our keys today was to share and attack physically. With that being said, I think we were successful tonight.
Brock and Rowland got to the free throw line and converted to close out the first half, and the Pacers led 46-34.
Deing opened the second half with a 3-pointer and Brock added a bucket, quickly pushing the lead to 17. A Jules dunk, two Brock free throws and a Rowland layup gave USCA a 62-42 lead with just under 15 minutes to go.
Flagler responded with a 13-4 run to get within 11 with 10:31 remaining, but the Pacers wouldn't allow the Saints to get the combo of baskets and stops they needed to come all the way back.
USCA returns to action at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Young Harris.