A buzzer-beating 3-pointer proved to be a reminder that USC Aiken remains the team to beat.
USC Aiken’s Mackenzie Reese drained a 3-pointer as time expired, capping a top-25 women’s matchup that lived up to the billing as No. 6 USC Aiken defeated No. 24 Augusta State 56-55 on Saturday at Christenberry Fieldhouse.
With 5 seconds remaining, USC Aiken’s Daniela Tarailo grabbed a rebound off two missed free throws and dished the ball downcourt to Reese, who avoided a potential steal, faced the basket and sent Lady Pacer fans to their feet with her 3-pointer.
“We knew the game wasn’t over,” Reese said. “Coming off the missed free throws, we pushed down floor, and it felt good out of my hand. It’s a great way to finish.”
The win solidified USC Aiken’s (17-2, 10-2) hold on first place in the Peach Belt Conference’s East Division by 11/2 games over Augusta State (15-3, 8-3).
In a game featuring four lead changes and four ties, the score went back and forth throughout the second half. Tanchelle Hollingsworth hit a 3-pointer for Augusta State’s first lead with 9 minutes left in the game.
Tarailo, who scored a career-high 31 points, grabbed a steal and finished a three-point play to bring the Lady Pacers within one with 5:02 left. She followed with another steal and 3-pointer to put USC Aiken ahead, 48-46, with 4:57 to go.
Augusta State regained the lead at 52-48 with less than 3 minutes left, and Hollingsworth made two free throws with 15 seconds left for a 55-50 lead.
However, Tarailo found net again on her fifth 3-pointer to pull USC Aiken within three.
After Tiffany Jaecks missed both free throws, the ball found Reese’s hands for the game-winning shot.
“It was a knock-down drag-out,” USC Aiken coach Mike Brandt said. “You could tell (Augusta State) really wanted it. I’m glad we had some fight left in us.”
Tarailo’s previous high was 30 points against Young Harris on Jan. 19. She made 5 of 8 3-pointers on Saturday and added eight rebounds.
“Career highs are awesome, but all that matters is that we won,” Tarailo said. “I think we struggled to play our game for the full 40 minutes, struggled to find our tempo. But whatever it takes to get the win.”
The Lady Pacers won for the seventh consecutive time in the series, denying the Lady Jaguars their first win against a team ranked sixth or higher. Augusta State’s seven-game winning streak was snapped.
“What (USC Aiken) did all game was made plays,” Augusta State coach Nate Teymer said.
“When the game clock was winding down, they made a play. You have to tip your hat to them.”
USC Aiken outrebounded Augusta State 38-23, including 10 from Tiffani Moody.
Augusta State was led by Hollingsworth’s 17 points on 5 of 9 shooting, including three 3-pointers. Taylor Ayers had 15 points, while Becky Newhouse led the Lady Jaguars with six rebounds.