The memory of Javonte Clanton lived on Monday night at the convocation center as the Pacers shocked No. 6 Augusta State, 71-68.
Wearing a No. 22 patch on his jersey, USC Aiken guard Sterling Council swished the game-winning, 16-foot jumper with 9.5 seconds remaining. Byron Faison later added two free throws to cap USC Aiken's biggest win of the season in front of Clanton's mother and sister and a crowd of 3,298.
"Twenty-two. We said we were going to do it for (Javonte), and that's exactly what we did," Pacers forward Seth Leonard said. "We looked at that board -- his poster's up on the wall in the locker room -- and we talked about him before the game. He definitely was looking out for us and we wanted to definitely step up on this day."
Council didn't forget Augusta State's one-point win over the Pacers last year here in the Peach Belt Conference Tournament Championship game. And he certainly didn't forget the Jaguars' win over USC Aiken in the 2009 Southeast Regional championship, Clanton's final collegiate game. The former Pacer guard died in a car accident just hours after that contest.
"(Javonte) was on my side and helped me knock down that shot," said Council, who led USC Aiken with 15 points. "I just wanted to rise to the occasion."
The Pacers played their finest game of the season, improving to 12-6 overall and 7-4 in conference play. USC Aiken overcame a 10-point deficit in the second half, held Augusta State to 44 percent field-goal shooting after halftime and forced 19 turnovers (13 in the second half).
"Our guys did a tremendous job of making some adjustments. We play these guys a lot, so we talk about their tendencies and focus on their tendencies," said Pacers coach Vince Alexander, whose team has knocked off Augusta State in their past three regular-season matchups at the convocation center.
"It comes down to two things -- toughness and turnovers," Jaguars coach Dip Metress said. "They made all the tough plays the first part of the second half. And we turned the ball over too much. You do that, you lose.
"Usually, we're a little smarter than that. Tonight, we won the stupid award. We were stupid all night."
Metress was the lone Augusta State representative available for comment after the game following the on-court melee at the game's conclusion. Pacer fans rushed the court, running over Jaguar guard Ben Madgen and forward Greg Hire.
After a few minutes, things settled down and the teams made it to their locker rooms.
Afterward, Metress said his two big men, center Alex Smith and forward Hire, missing significant chunks of the game because of foul trouble was key. Smith, who averages 15.3 points a game, was held to seven points. He picked up two quick fouls at the end of the first half and notched his fourth with 12:27 remaining.
"He got into foul trouble and that hurt us," Metress said about Smith. "But that didn't hurt as much as the lack of toughness we possessed tonight."
USC Aiken trailed by 14 late in the first half before popping four free throws just before halftime. Down 10 early in the second half, the Pacers kept chipping away at the deficit and went ahead 62-61 on Council's 10-foot pull-up jumper.
Augusta State made just one bucket the final five minutes. In that span, the Jaguars turned the ball over five times, four by senior forward Fred Brathwaite. With 37 seconds remaining, Brathwaite fumbled Daniel Dixon's inbounds pass near the basket.
After Council's game-winner, Augusta State pushed the ball up the floor to Brathwaite on the wing. He tried to dribble behind his back, but with Casey McMasters defending, Council tipped the ball away and Byron Faison grabbed it and got fouled.
After Faison pushed the lead to three, Madgen, who posted a game-high 24 points, missed a desperation, off-balanced 3-pointer.
"You go back to one of the final plays, Casey (McMasters) guarding Brathwaite. He knew what he was going to do on that particular move, played it and got a steal," Alexander said. "So I have to give credit to our guys as well for paying attention to details and executing them."
These two teams turn around and play again next Wednesday in Augusta. Before then, the Jaguars travel Thursday to Georgia Southwestern and then Saturday to Columbus State.
"When we drive across that bridge, I'm not jumping off," Metress said. "Lost a tough game on the road. We've got to deal with Georgia Southwestern and Columbus on the road. Hopefully, we'll get those. We'll worry about Aiken next week."
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org
USC AIKEN 71, AUGUSTA STATE 68
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Sterling Council. The USC Aiken guard led the Pacers with 15 points and added four steals.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Council swished the game-winning, 16-foot jumper with 9.5 seconds left.
NEXT: Augusta State (15-2, 7-1) at Georgia Southwestern, 7:30 p.m., Thursday; King College at USC Aiken (12-6, 7-4), 3 p.m., Saturday.