Pacers open with flourish


AIKEN --- Wearing a pair of blue jeans from his own clothing line, Kevin Willis looked on Wednesday night as his son hustled around the court.


In limited action, Kevin Willis Jr. nearly posted a double-double as No. 14 USC Aiken defeated Voorhees in a season-opening 108-63 victory at the convocation center.

A junior forward, the younger Willis spent his summer mornings waking early to work on his conditioning and his basketball game. The extra effort showed against the Tigers, as he finished with 18 points on 8 of 10 shooting with nine boards and a block in 19 minutes.

"I see the work is paying off," the elder Willis said.

The younger Willis scored four buckets the first eight minutes as USC Aiken jumped out to a 27-5 lead. Voorhees (3-5) recorded as many field goals (two) as the Pacers had alley-oop dunks during that span.

In the teams' first meeting since 1991, the Tigers were little competition. Voorhees shot 27 percent from the field and committed 21 turnovers.

USC Aiken hit the 100-point mark for the first time in two seasons, and it did so with ease. The Pacers shot 60 percent from the field, including a 10 for 22 effort from 3-point range.

"We wanted to come out and let people know this is a good team," said USC Aiken coach Vince Alexander, whose squad improved to 37-6 at the convocation center. "It was fun to watch."

For Willis, it was almost a replica of his last game on his home floor. He recorded 18 points and 10 rebounds in last season's Peach Belt Conference Tournament championship game, a win over Montevallo. He then sat out the following two Division II Tournament contests with a back injury.

Willis worked hard to prevent that from happening again, and his conditioning showed against Voorhees. On one play late in the first half, Willis outhustled his defender down court after the Tigers' Donald Sprately missed inside the paint. Willis sprinted hard, took a dish from Re'mon Nelson and kissed the ball off the glass for a layup.

"It all goes back to the 6:30 a.m. workouts," Willis said. "It's all tied into the mind. Where the mind goes, the body follows."

USC Aiken received solid efforts all around. Senior guard Byron Faison posted 17 points and four assists. Kenny Manigault, a sophomore transfer from Wichita State, shot 5 for 5 from the field for 14 points. Nelson and Jesse Seilern each chipped in with 13 points.

Manigault said defense was the key to the game after USC Aiken narrowly defeated Southern Wesleyan in an exhibition last week. Against Voorhees, Alexander gave his team the task of winning by 40.

"The first thing we had to do was play defense," Manigault said. "And we did just that."

USC Aiken, picked to win the Peach Belt Conference in the preseason coaches poll, now goes on the road Saturday to play No. 6 Florida Southern. After the Pacers' effort against the Tigers, Alexander said they welcome the upcoming challenge.

"I think this team is ready to hit the road and see what we can do," he said.