AIKEN — At his old school, Santoine Butler didn’t always get to play in front of his family.
But on Tuesday night, the USC Aiken junior showed everyone his toughness on the boards, his authority on dunks, his shooting range and then his smile as the clock neared zero and finally reached it.
His family – mom, dad, stepmother, and friends — saw it all. The Cross Creek graduate’s efficient 16 points and nine rebounds played a major part in USC Aiken’s 82-75 win against Barton at the USC Aiken Convocation Center.
The win puts the Pacers into the NCAA Division II Elite Eight.
“They never really got a chance to make it to a lot of games,” Butler said about his family seeing him play at Gardner-Webb. “For them to be here and every single game, and see, it’s a great feeling. It’s an unexplainable feeling. It just feels good, feels right.”
With less than four minutes remaining in the game, Butler led all players in field goals made (seven) and rebounds (eight) to provide a steady presence as some of his teammates battled foul trouble.
At game’s end, his final totals – the nine boards were a game-high – helped lift the Pacers to the final eight.
The Gardner-Webb transfer made seven of his 10 attempts, including one 3-pointer that put the Pacers up 46-41 in the second half. Also, as USC Aiken stayed in front by shooting 65.4 percent after halftime, Butler contributed by going 5 for 7 in the last 20 minutes.
Butler also had two alley-oop dunks.
“I can just hear the anticipation in the crowd whenever it goes up,” Butler said about the alley-oop plays. “It’s a big gasp and then when I put it down, it’s an explosion of cheers. It’s very fun.”
In wanting to transfer from Gardner-Webb, Butler hoped to find a more uptempo style. That is the way USC Aiken plays.
“Coming here felt like the right decision,” Butler said. “And I made the right decision.”