USC Aiken primed to play host to first NCAA regional

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Five years have passed and USC Aiken coach Vince Alexander can now laugh about the World Famous Lipizzaner Stallions.

His players from the 2007-08 men’s basketball team? That might be another story.

“You couldn’t talk about that until (former guard) Seth Leonard and that group was gone,” Alexander said. “They were pretty hot about that. They were not happy.”

The USC Aiken men play host to their first Division II Southeast Regional, beginning Saturday at the convocation center. The Pacers, the Peach Belt Conference regular season and tournament champions, face Belmont Abbey in the first round of the NCAA Tourna­ment.

Five years ago, USC Aiken put itself in position to hold its first regional. The Pacers, 9-22 in 2006-07, reversed a tide of six consecutive losing campaigns in 2007-08, winning the Peach Belt Conference and earning the No. 1 seed in the region. But the school never played host to the regional, because it failed to block off the dates for the tournament. Global Spectrum, which shares the arena with USC Aiken, booked the Lipizzaner Stallions several months in advance instead.

“What’s the odds of that team being in position to be No. 1 in the region and host the region tournament the next year? Not very likely,” said athletic director Randy Warrick, who accepted responsibility for not blocking off the dates in 2008. “Who would have thunk?”

With horses in their arena that season, the Pacers traveled to rival Augusta State to open the Division II Tournament.

Clayton State upset USC Aiken in the first round, while the Jaguars went on to win the regional.

“We’re past that now. God is good to the one that waits on him, to the soul that’s seeking him,” Alexander said. “It comes back around. This time, it’s sweeter.”

Nothing is blocking USC Aiken this time around.

The Pacers have a tremendous home-court advantage, sporting a 27-1 record at the convocation center the past two seasons. The Pacers’ lone loss in that stretch came against King, 88-84, on Dec. 30.

“The loss to King was a tough one, but we learned from it,” USC Aiken point guard Re’mon Nelson said. “We feel very comfortable on our home floor.”

NCAA TOURNAMENT

WHAT: Southeast Regional

WHO: No. 1 USC Aiken
(22-7) vs. No. 8 Belmont Abbey (22-9)

WHEN: 5 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: USC Aiken Convocation Center

TICKETS: $8 for adults, $5 for students and senior citizens.


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