Consider the chip officially on the shoulder.
The USC Aiken men’s basketball team had to travel 336 miles for its first-round game today in the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional in Montevallo, Ala. In the Pacers’ minds, the road trip was 336 miles farther than it should have been.
USC Aiken entered the Peach Belt Conference Tournament ranked No. 1 in the region but lost in double overtime in the tournament semifinals. Fourth-ranked Montevallo won the tournament and took an uncharacteristically large leap over the Pacers and two other teams to earn the right to play host to the Southeast Regional.
USC Aiken head coach Vince Alexander wasn’t happy when the new rankings came out Sunday night, but he said the top-seed snub is nothing new for his Pacers.
“There’s always motivation,” he said. “Just like coming into the season we were picked sixth in the conference. You just have to go out there, and we have to play. God-willing we’ll go out there and do our best to win a regional championship.”
The second-seeded Pacers (21-7) will face No. 7 seed Wingate (20-11) today at 3:30 in the first round. It will be just the second meeting in seven years between the two schools.
“I don’t know one thing about them besides we tried to play them the last four or five years and they wouldn’t play us,” he said.
“We’re looking forward to finding out a little bit more about them and going up against them.”
The Pacers feature a variety of scoring threats and a deep bench that resulted in nine players averaging at least 16 minutes of playing time per game during the regular season – an ideal set- up for a tournament that will require the champion to win three games in four days.
Sterling Council and Re’mon Nelson, both all-conference selections, lead the offense from the backcourt with a post rotation including Rick Alderman, Joel Gierbolini, Jeremiah Pojah and Maurice Hubbard.
USC Aiken’s offensive prowess will clash with a defensive-minded Wingate squad that didn’t offer much offensively during the regular season but allowed only 64.8 points per game.
Alexander said he likes the freshness of facing an unfamiliar opponent.
“The positive thing that I see is we’re not starting off the tournament against a Peach Belt team, which I like,” he said. “You go out with some teams that don’t know what you do and how you’ve played all year. So I’m excited about it.”
The Pacers reached the NCAA Division II Tournament for the fifth time in school history.