Before the game Saturday, USC Aiken coach Vince Alexander received text messages from former players Cordaryl Ballard and Kingsley Oguchi.
Ballard and Oguchi played on Pacer teams that never defeated Augusta State in Augusta. They each sentmessages telling Alexander he had the team to finally get it done. And they did.
Forward Paul Larsen scored 21 points as USC Aiken dominated in the paint and pulled away for a 76-62 over the Jaguars at Christenberry Fieldhouse.
“Augusta State has been so good and has owned us here for so many years. It’s very nice,” said eighth-year USC Aiken coach Vince Alexander, who notched his first win over Augusta State in Augusta, the Pacers’ first win over the Jaguars since Jan. 23, 2002. “Thank God these guys did come out and got the job done today.”
USC Aiken (14-5, 10-2) extended its lead in the Peach Belt Conference East Division to 21/2 games over Armstrong Atlantic State, which lost to UNC Pembroke. More importantly, the Pacers extended their winning streak to five and took a half-game lead over Montevallo in the conference standings.
Augusta State (10-8, 5-6) dropped its fifth Peach Belt game in its past six outings without forward Harold Doby, who was suspended indefinitely following his arrested in mid-January on a gun charge. With little inside presence, the Jaguars shot 37 percent from the field and got out-rebounded, 43-30.
“I apologize to all the people in Augusta and all the fans in the CSRA about where our program is right now,” Augusta State coach Dip Metress said. “We’re going to get it fixed.”
The game turned for the worse for Augusta State with 5:34 left in the first half and the Jaguars down by three. Forward Devon Wright-Nelson (6-foot-5, 220 pounds), the team’s biggest player and second-leading scorer, left with a right ankle sprain and did not return. Metress said he doesn’t know Wright-Nelson’s status for the future, but he added, “It doesn’t look good.”
It didn’t look good for Augusta State in the paint from the start. Larsen scored on a pair of layups in the first three minutes, setting the tone for the evening. He shot 7 for 9 from the field, adding nine points, while forward Santoine Butler of Augusta posted seven points and seven boards.
“They kept giving me the ball,” Larsen said. “I just wanted to finish it.”
Augusta State, led by Ryan Weems’ 12 points, pulled within four early in the second half. USC Aiken responded with a Jesse Seilern 3-pointer. Ronald Zimmerman followed with another 3-pointer. Then, Zimmerman swished another three – two of his five in the game – to push the lead to 46-37 with 13:39 remaining.
Zimmerman, who finished with 15 points, later capped a 9-0 run to extend the lead to 15.
“We know our big men are hard to handle in the paint,” Zimmerman said. “When teams double down on them in the post, it opens up everything.”
Augusta State made just eight field goals the first 16 minutes of the second half. The Jaguars never got on track offensively, shooting 2 for 11 from the perimeter.