AIKEN — When USC Aiken was picked to finish sixth in the preseason conference coaches poll, the Pacers took offense.
USC Aiken served notice around the Peach Belt Conference on Monday night with a convincing 76-54 victory over Augusta State in front of a crowd of 3,325 spectators.
“People on the outside looking in really didn’t know what we had,” Pacers senior guard Sterling Council said. “I knew we had a good team.”
USC Aiken remained the only unbeaten team in league play, improving to 12-2 overall, 6-0 in the Peach Belt. The Pacers, who also improved to 5-0 against Augusta State at the convocation center during the regular season, handed the Jaguars their worst defeat in the rivalry, eclipsing the 102-81 defeat during the 1997-98 season.
“It’s always a good win when you win a rivalry game,” Pacers coach Vince Alexander said. “I thought our guys did a phenomenal job in the second half defensively, creating turnovers, pressuring like we like to do.”
USC Aiken flexed its muscle in the second half, flummoxing Augusta State (8-7, 4-3) with its full-court pressure. Down four at intermission, the Jaguars turned the ball over on seven of their first nine possessions in the second half. By then, the damage was done.
Augusta State, which entered averaging 10.4 turnovers a game, finished with more turnovers (20) than field goals (18). The young Jaguars, who took just five shots the first 10 minutes of the second half, turned the ball over 14 times after halftime. USC Aiken scored 27 points – 22 in the second half – off Jaguar turnovers.
“A team that doesn’t turn it over turned it over a lot tonight,” Augusta State coach Dip Metress said. “When you turn it over to a team and when you give up layups, you’re going to get beat.”
Augusta State leading scorer Harold Doby swished a pair of 3-pointers in the first half and ended the night with eight points and six turnovers. He never got on track in the second half and fouled out with 5:44 remaining, his first time fouling out this season.
Council came off the bench to lead USC Aiken with 17 points. Center Joel Gierbolini posted 10 points and a team-high seven boards, while Jesse Seilern added 12 points.
After a back-and-forth first half that featured 10 lead changes, the Pacers quickly opened up the contest. Leading 32-28 at intermission, USC Aiken turned up the heat with their full-court press.
Augusta State opened with a turnover by Devon Wright-Nelson, who led the Jaguars with 14 points. Jeremiah Pojah responded with a driving layup. D’Angelo Boyce then lost the ball. Re’mon Nelson, who scored 11 points, responded with a quick layup.
Later, after a Doby turnover, Maurice Hubbard scored on a putback. USC Aiken led 38-28. It only got worse for the Jaguars.
Doby swung his elbow, connecting with Nelson’s nose. The bloody intentional foul sent Nelson briefly out of the game and Council to the line for two points.
Later, Jesse Seilern and Ronald Zimmerman swished consecutive 3-pointers from the right corner at the shot-clock buzzer. A shell-shocked Augusta State squad trailed, 46-30, with 16:09 remaining.
“They just came out more physical,” Jaguars senior guard O’Neal Armstrong said. “We just didn’t come out ready to play in the second half.
“It won’t happen again. We’ll be all right. We’ll learn from it.”