By ERIC RUSSELL
First-year USC Aiken men’s basketball head coach Mark Vanderslice may still be a bit worried about his team’s defense, but he was planning to sleep well Wednesday night after his team picked up a 97-84 victory in its home opener against Paine – his first as head coach of the Pacers.
It was the Lions who came into the game averaging nearly 90 points per game, but it was the Pacers who eclipsed the 90-point mark for the win.
“Every win helps me sleep at night,” Vanderslice said. “I just gained seven hours of sleep tonight instead of three.”
The balanced Pacer offensive attack led by Keith Belfield and Jevon Patton proved to be too much for Paine, which was led by Denzel Dillingham’s 30 points. Belfield, playing in the Convocation Center for the first time since he went down with an injury last season, led all scorers with 31 points. Newcomer Patton added 25 in 40 minutes of playing time, and the Pacers got strong showings from Jordan Foster (14) and Arbry Butler (12).
Patton continued to prove that he’s got what it takes to lead USCA at the point. He dished out seven assists, and Vanderslice said he responded well to the variety of ways Paine chose to guard him.
“We performed at the level that we wanted to play, but we followed through with our keys to victory,” Vanderslice said. “Did we do it at a level that we wanted to? No, but I thought that we did a really good job.”
Vanderslice was particularly pleased with the way his team handled the defense from Paine. The Pacers only turned the ball over 10 times and shot 65 percent from the field, including 73 percent in the second half and 45 percent from downtown.
Outside of Dillingham’s 10 for 18 performance, the Pacers did allow three other Lions to get into double figures, leaving Vanderslice still wanting to see more from his team defensively. The Lions put up 31 shots from beyond the arc, making 15, which kept the game close to a 10 point margin for a good portion of the second half.
“Every win is great,” Vanderslice said. “We had two really tough games on the road. This was great for our guy’s confidence. This was a confidence boost for them to say, ‘hey you know what ... when we do what we’re supposed to do and we stay disciplined in our system, there’s going to be a lot more to come.’”
The Pacers’ next shot at a win comes on Saturday against Carson-Newman. The game was moved up to 11 a.m. because of the PBC Volleyball Championship game being held at the Convocation Center at 2 p.m.