AIKEN - Ronald Zimmerman and Re’mon Nelson knew they were at least partially to blame for USC Aiken’s predicament. As the 19th-ranked Pacers trailed late in the second half, Zimmerman hadn’t hit a 3-pointer in four attempts and Nelson was 4 for 11 from the field.
But the two USC Aiken guards came out of their funk at just the right time in a 77-71 Peach Belt Conference win over North Georgia Saturday night.
With the Pacers trailing by six in the aftermath of the Saints’ 11-0 run to take a late second-half lead, Zimmerman and Nelson hit back-to-back 3s with help from Maurice Hubbard’s crucial offensive rebound. The momentum-swinging series put the Pacers back on top with 3:45 to play and erased what had been a frustrating shooting night.
“We were struggling all night,” Zimmerman said. “That play was definitely big. We needed that.”
The two shots, which came within 15 seconds of each other thanks to Zimmerman’s steal off a full-court press, gave the home team the lead for good.
Nelson’s 3 seemed to add some spark to the junior guard, who finished with a game-high 22 points.
“I wanted him to take that shot,” head coach Vince Alexander said. “I didn’t want him to hesitate at all, because when he doesn’t hesitate he actually does a pretty good job. I thought we had momentum going our way, thank God, and it was a good shot at the right time.”
Jesse Seilern and Sterling Council took over from there, hitting 7 for 8 free throws over the final 40 seconds to seal the win.
The Pacers, who dropped their first conference game three days earlier at UNC Pembroke, recovered despite being forced into some mid-game adjustments. The team’s original plan of employing a high-energy full-court press was rendered ineffective after 15 fouls were called in the game’s first seven and a half minutes.
“It took us out of our flow and out of our rhythm,” Alexander said. “We thought coming in we could really press this team, and we were doing that. But then the whistle got a little happy there and we had to back off. When we back off, we’re just not as aggressive and we’re not as good as I’d like to be.”
Alexander brought the press back in the second half with better results. The win kept USC Aiken tied atop the conference standings with just one loss as they continue a stretch of seven conference games in 15 days.
Clarence Tillman led North Georgia with 21 points and five steals.