AIKEN — Forget the fact USC Aiken couldn’t make a field goal – or a free throw – when it mattered Wednesday night.
Forget that the third-ranked Lady Pacers lost the second top-five matchup in Peach Belt Conference women’s basketball history, a 56-50 defeat to No. 4 Clayton State.
Forget that USC Aiken’s 25-game regular season home winning streak at the convocation center came to a halt.
Sadly for the Lady Pacers, the game will be remembered for what happened at the end. With 2:31 remaining, All-American junior forward Kayla Harris, the Lady Pacers’ leading scorer and rebounder, fell to the hardwood, screaming in pain. She was helped off the court, didn’t apply pressure to her right leg and never returned.
“I know her kneecap was dislocated,” USC Aiken coach Mike Brandt said. “Everything else – ACL, everything – it doesn’t look good. Obviously, you don’t know for sure or not. But it doesn’t look very good at all.”
USC Aiken (12-1, 5-1) was on the verge of saving itself from its worst shooting performance of the season – the team shot 14 percent (4 for 29) from the floor in the second half – with Harris helping to lead the charge from an eight-point deficit with 5:12 remaining. Harris, who shot just 2 for 11 from the field for 11 points, began driving to the basket more late in the game. She swished three free throws during a 9-0 run.
The Lady Pacers trailed by one when Harris embarked upon her final drive of the night, darting down the right side of the lane. After getting fouled by Shacamra Jackson, Harris crumbled to the floor, writhing in pain.
“It’s tough,” Brandt said. “She’s an All-American. She’s our leading scorer. She does so many things for us defensively. But we’ve talked about it all year. If a player goes down, other people have to step up.”
USC Aiken, the league’s top-shooting team, had no one step up after Harris departed.
The Lady Pacers, who shot just 26 percent for the game and also shot 64 percent from the foul line, missed four shots in the final 1:38 of the game. Worse, Mia Antoine and Daniela Tarailo, who led USC Aiken with 12 points on 4 for 18 shooting, combined to make one of four free-throw attempts in the final 34 seconds.
Clayton State (14-0, 7-0), which shot just 37 percent itself, went ahead 52-50 on a Shannon Smith layupwith 30 seconds left.
Kayla Pryce followed with a layup to push the margin to four. USC Aiken had no answer.
Drameka Griggs posted 20 points, nine rebounds and five assists to lead the Laker women. Clayton State frustrated the Lady Pacers with their full-court press, forcing 19 turnovers and making USC Aiken take several bad shots at the end of the shot clock.
“I think their press flustered a few people,” Tarailo said. “It rushed us. Then we were timid. I think it took us out of our game.”
The Lady Pacers still had a chance at the end. But with the loss of Harris, combined with starting point guard Brittany Hill fouling out with 2:04 remaining, USC Aiken never recovered.