AIKEN — Head coach Vince Alexander is always quick to credit his faith after his USC Aiken men’s basketball team comes up with a victory. But his usual spiritually-driven thank you appeared to come with a little extra depth after Saturday night’s 81-78 win over UNC Pembroke.
On a poor shooting night that saw excessive turnovers, post problems and foul trouble, divine intervention seemed to be the only plausible explanation for a victory.
“I’ve got to give glory and honor to God because there’s no way we win that game without the graces of God getting us through,” Alexander said. “So that’s that. I think our guys did a good job of hanging in there. They didn’t give up. They tested me, and we tested each other.”
UNC Pembroke dominated the post with size and a physical toughness that the Pacers failed to match early on. But Alexander said he challenged his post players to stand up to the pressure. After trailing by 15 in the first half, the Pacers answered their coach’s challenge.
“We started to get some stops and some rebounds,” Alexander said. “The first half I thought they absolutely destroyed us inside. I thought the second half our guys came out and played with a little more intensity and came with a little more passion and they refused to let them just get layups on us inside.”
The equalizing in the paint opened the floor up for USC Aiken’s guards, who won the game late with clutch free throws and 3-point shooting. The Pacers trailed 66-55 with six minutes left but tied the game three-and-a-half minutes later with a flurry of big shots.
Jesse Seilern hit two deep 3-pointers in the 15-4 run and eventually gave USC Aiken its first lead on a fadeaway 3 with a defender in his face. The night’s biggest shot came with 48.8 seconds left and gave the Pacers the lead for good.
“Once we got that, I went out there and tried to get our shooters open,” point guard Sterling Council said. “Our shooters made shots.”
UNC Pembroke’s K.J. Cooper, who finished with 11 points and five rebounds, had one final chance to tie the game, but his halfcourt heave at the buzzer hit the backboard, caught the front of the rim and fell off.
Braves guard Shahmel Brackett scored 20 of his game-high 24 points in the second half.
Five Pacers finished in double figures. Re’mon Nelson and Ronald Zimmerman led the way with 15 each.