AIKEN — On a night when the USC Aiken men posted a season high in points, all the Pacers wanted to talk about was how good the defense looked.
An Armstrong Atlantic State offense averaging more than 90 points per game was held to its second-lowest total of the season in a 103-81 USC Aiken win Wednesday night.
Considering the news the Pacers got earlier in the day, the well-balanced Peach Belt Conference victory was a welcomed relief.
Alvin Brown, the reigning conference defensive player of the year and preseason all-conference forward, failed to clear his academic hurdles and will miss the rest of the season. The hole left by the absence of the 6-foot-10 shot blocker looked a little smaller after the win.
“We’ve said all year that, no offense, we’re not worried about Alvin,” coach Vince Alexander said. “We have a very, very good team. We probably have the deepest rotation inside that we’ve ever had.”
Junior forward Joel Gierbolini did his best Brown impression, getting six blocks and 12 rebounds to lead a defensive effort that held Armstrong (4-4, 1-1) to its lowest offensive output since a season-opening loss at NCAA Division I Savannah State.
Though the night eventually saw the Pacers (6-1, 2-0) top 100 points for the first time this season, they struggled early, trailing by nine points six minutes in.
Momentum swung when senior forward Jeremiah Pojah scored on the post, then stole the ball on the next possession and dunked in transition over a defender to give USC Aiken a 30-29 lead.
The ensuing surge saw the Pacers score 25 points in the final five minutes of the half.
“That was a nice little spark for us to get us going,” junior guard Re’mon Nelson said.
Nelson provided a more sustained surge with a team-high 19 points on 8 of 10 shooting in just 15 minutes of playing time.
Four other Pacers scored in double figures, including Pojah, who finished with 13 points and nine rebounds. Sterling Council scored 13 points and went 6 for 6 from the free-throw line in a game that saw a combined 65 foul shots.
“We have this thing as a team that at six fouls there’s no jump shots. Everything’s to the rim,” Alexander said. “We’re going to try to shoot a lot of free throws, because we’ll take our chances. Maybe we’ll shoot enough to win.”
The Pacers shot 71.4 percent (30 for 42) from the free-throw line.
Armstrong’s Aric Miller scored 14 of his game-high 25 points in the second half.