The last time USC Aiken played Augusta State, the Pacers handed the Jaguars their worst beating in the rivalry.
Now, Augusta State is looking to avoid another second-half meltdown.
“They kind of beat up on us,” senior Jaguar guard Tye Beal said. “We’ve got to handle that and their ball pressure a lot better.”
Augusta State plays host to the 23rd-ranked Pacers at 7:30 tonight at Christenberry Fieldhouse in its final home game of the season. The No. 13 USC Aiken women face the Lady Jaguars at 5:30.
The USC Aiken men (17-5, 11-3) are in first place in the Peach Belt Conference East Division, 11/2 games ahead of Augusta State (14-9, 10-5). With a victory tonight, the Pacers will clinch at least a share of the division title.
If the Pacers are going to win tonight, they’ll have to do so in what’s expected to be a wild atmosphere in a sold-out arena. USC Aiken has lost nine consecutive games to the Jaguars in Augusta – the Pacers’ last win over Augusta State at Christenberry Fieldhouse came on Feb. 23, 2002.
“It’s a rivalry game. It’s Duke-North Carolina, Cincinnati-Xavier. That’s what it is,” Pacers coach Vince Alexander said. “They’re going to be ready to play. We’re going to be ready to play. God-willing, we’re going to go over there and get a victory.”
The Jaguars are 58-2 at home in their past 60 contests. USC Aiken almost handed Augusta State another home defeat last season, when it erased a nine-point deficit in the final 65 seconds to force overtime. The Jaguars went on to win 57-53.
“We’ve never won at their place,” Pacers senior guard Sterling Council said. “Every year was our chance, we just unfortunately couldn’t win. This year, on Wednesday, we hopefully get the job done, get that first win at their place and go on to the next one.”
In January, USC Aiken defeated Augusta State, 76-54. Down four at intermission, the Jaguars had turnovers on seven of their first nine possessions in the second half and soon trailed by 21.
Augusta State, which leads the league with 11.7 turnovers a game, committed a season-worst 20. Jaguars coach Dip Metress called his team’s mistakes in that game “an anomaly.”
“We kind of know their personnel,” he said. “The question is: Can we handle the ball against them? Hopefully, we can.”
• In the women’s contest, Augusta State (11-12, 6-9) is trying to keep its fleeting hope of making the conference tournament alive. With three games left, the Lady Jaguars trail Armstrong Atlantic State by two in the loss column.
The Lady Pacers (19-3, 12-2), led by reigning Peach Belt Conference Player of the Week Kayla Harris, control their own destiny down the stretch.
If USC Aiken wins its final four games, it will claim the East Division title.
Staff Writer Billy Byler contributed to this article.