COLUMBUS, Ga. — USC Aiken won its second consecutive Peach Belt Conference Tournament championship Sunday afternoon, holding off Montevallo, 61-59, at The Lumpkin Center.
“To win another championship is just awesome,” said USC Aiken head coach Vince Alexander. “I’ve really been blessed to be involved with a group of players like this. I really think what makes us so good is our leadership. After we lost our first game of the season, I took some of our players aside and challenged them. I told them to take more responsibility for this team and to keep their teammates accountable. When you go to war, you want the best people with you. You want the people who are courageous and fearless and that’s what these guys are.”
No. 7 USC Aiken (29-3) will now play in the NCAA Southeast Regional, which starts later this week. The Pacers advanced to the Elite Eight last year before being eliminated by eventual national champion Drury.
Sunday’s title game wasn’t decided until the final 30 seconds of the game. With the score tied at 59, USC Aiken got an offensive rebound and called a timeout. Out of the timeout, a play was drawn up for guard DeVontae Wright, who made a layup with 28.2 seconds left to go to put the Pacers up, 61-59.
“The play got drawn up in the huddle and it was like (Alexander) said, ‘It’s on you,’,” said Wright, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after scoring 18 points with four rebounds, two assists and a steal in 40 minutes. “I just went out there, got open and made my shot.”
Montevallo (24-5), which was making its third consecutive appearance in the PBC Tournament title game, brought the ball back downcourt and after a timeout of its own, the Falcons drew up a play for PBC Player of the Year Troran Brown. Brown got the ball and launched a 3-point shot that was off the mark. The Falcons got the offensive rebound and had two other shots to tie or win the game in the final seconds, but they were off the mark as well and the Pacers were able to survive.
“This was a typical title game for this conference,” said Montevallo head coach Danny Young. “It was hard-fought the whole way and both teams were really tired after having played late (Saturday night). We really were hurt when (Brown) got his fourth foul (with 13:26 to go) and had to sit out a while, but we had guys step up and hit shots for us. We had our chances to win the game, but we just missed some shots.”
The teams were tied at 30 at halftime before USC Aiken took advantage of Brown’s absence to build an eight point le at 49-41 on a three-point play by Shane Porchea with 10:36 to go. However, the Falcons put together a 10-2 run of its own to go up 54-53 on a jumper by Ryan May with 6:43 remaining. Montevallo took its last lead at 59-57 on a basket by Shykeem Jackson with 4:13 left, but those were the last points the Falcons would score. The teams traded missed shots before Alvin Brown made a layup with 2:02 to go to tie the game at 59 and set up Wright’s late-game heroics.
“I think we’re playing some of our best basketball of the season right now,” said Alexander, whose team has won 11 straight games and is 24-1 in its last 25 games. “I told our guards that they have to be the best guards in the country and they’re playing that way right now. They’re so unselfish. All of them are letting the game come to them and are smart enough to make their teammates better.”
Jesse Seilern made four 3-pointers in the game’s first 10:35 to finish with 12 points, two assists and two turnovers, Brown had 11 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots and Paul Larsen pitched in 10 points and eight rebounds for USC Aiken. Larsen was also named to the All-Tournament Team for his play.
Brown had 11 points (on just 5-of-16 shooting) and three rebounds and Orlando Brazier netted 11 points and five rebounds to pace Montevallo offensively. Jackson had 10 points, three rebounds and three assists for the Falcons, who missed their final seven shots of the game. Brown and Jackson were named to the All-Tournament Team for their efforts.
“We had a lot of guys that were exhausted,” said Young, whose team had to go to double overtime to outlast Georgia Regents, 96-87, in the semifinals Saturday night. “Several of our guys played close to 50 minutes (Saturday) and then had to come back today. We had our chances, though, but we just couldn’t make the shots when we needed them.”
Along with the two players from USC Aiken and two from Montevallo, also being named to the All-Tournament Team were Ryan Weems of Georgia Regents and Jamon Hawkins of Georgia Southwestern.