MONTEVALLO, Ala. — Nine days ago, USC Aiken was riding high as the Peach Belt Conference regular-season champion and top seed in the conference tournament.
But the Pacers lost in double-overtime to Columbus State on March 3 in the Peach Belt Conference Tournament semifinals. Then they followed that up with a 73-70 loss to Wingate on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional at BankTrust Arena.
“It hurts me a lot,” USC Aiken coach Vince Alexander said. “Of course, all you can think about at this point are losses. I can’t think about wins.
“So right now for me it is Columbus State and then we came here and lost to Wingate. It is pretty devastating to be honest with you.”
USC Aiken fell behind Wingate early by eight points on four occasions in the first half, the final one, 25-17, with 6:48 remaining.
The Pacers responded by closing out the half on a 16-4 run and a 35-29 lead. Terrance Dent hit three 3-pointers during the run.
USC Aiken had as much as an eight-point lead in the second half, but Wingate battled back to tie the game at 60 on Odell Thurman’s 15-footer with 8:19 left.
Joel Gierbolini put the Pacers ahead 64-62 with 6:08 left. That would be USC Aiken’s last lead.
Thurman, who finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds, hit a 3-pointer with 5:48 left to give the Bulldogs the lead for good at 65-64.
Down the stretch, USC Aiken went 1 for 6 from the floor, while Wingate went 6 for 6 from the foul line.
Wingate led 71-67 when Re’mon Nelson hit a 3-pointer with 16.4 seconds left, breaking a field-goal drought of nearly five minutes.
Jamie Vaughn, who led Wingate with 22 points, iced the game with two free throws with 9.5 seconds remaining. Nelson’s long 35-footer at the buzzer failed to hit the rim.
Wingate finished the game by making 21 of 22 free throws. USC Aiken was 11 of 20.
“The last six minutes, we had some good looks, some good shots,” Alexander said. “ They just didn’t fall for us. Shots that had been falling earlier didn’t fall for us.”