AIKEN — USC Aiken coach Vince Alexander issued a simple command to his players Saturday night.
“Go get something to eat. Celebrate while you get something to eat,” he said. “When you come back, it’s over.”
Re’mon Nelson and Jesse Seilern combined for 45 points and the 20th-ranked Pacers savored their Division II Tournament opening win – 94-76 over Belmont Abbey at the convocation center – albeit briefly.
USC Aiken (23-7), the No. 1 seed in the Southeast Regional, advances to play Wingate at 7:30 tonight in the regional semifinals. Belmont Abbey finishes the season at 22-10.
Seilern scored his most points in almost two months, matching his career high with 21. The junior guard shot 8 for 11 from the floor with five 3-pointers.
Nelson, the Peach Belt Conference Player of the Year, came within a point of matching his career high. He shot 8 of 14 from the floor for 24 points, climbing to third on the school’s career scoring list with 1,212 points, pushing just ahead of Derek Moore (1,211).
“We depend on Jesse and Re’ (pronounced ‘Ray’) to shut down the other team’s best guards,” Alexander said. “Jesse can score. He shot the ball well today in the shootaround. So I knew he was ready. And Re’ shoots the ball well.”
After winning the Peach Belt Conference Tournament with comeback wins in the semifinals and finals, USC Aiken didn’t fool around until the second half this time. Locked in an offensive battle with the Crusaders the first 15 minutes, the Pacers finally broke free.
DeVontae Wright broke a 33-all tie with a jump shot. Santoine Butler, who posted eight points and nine boards, followed with two free throws. Seilern then swished a 3-pointer. After a steal by Paul Larsen, Nelson chased down the long pass and banked in the layup. Then, Seilern swished another 3-pointer, capping the 12-0 run. USC Aiken took a 45-33 lead with 2:26 left in the half.
“That was a big run,” Belmont Abbey coach Stephen Miss said. “They separated from us a bit. In the second half, we did cut it to eight at one point. So I don’t want to blow it out of proportion, and say that was the game. But it definitely gave them a bit of a cushion.”
Crusaders senior guard Tyshawn Good, the nation’s leading scorer (27.0 average on 52 percent shooting), shot 8 for 19 from the field for 26 points. Seilern was tasked with defending him.
“I’m use to guarding people like that,” Seilern said. “Don’t give him all the daylight he wants. I think that was key.”
USC Aiken got a big boost from its bench with Larsen, who posted 14 points and 10 boards, and leading scorer Ronald Zimmerman in foul trouble. Derrick Scott, DeVontae Wright, Shane Porchea, Kinley Branch and Grant Harris all played big minutes, combining for 24 bench points.
“I don’t think we’re a team that has to have one guy,” Alexander said. “We’re a very balanced team. I’m very blessed. I’ve got great leaders.”