As he prepared for his first Elite Eight appearance, USC Aiken coach Vince Alexander gleaned some information from South Carolina coach Frank Martin.
In 2010, Martin led second-seeded Kansas State to an Elite Eight appearance against fifth seed Butler. In the day between the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight games, Martin chose to go easy on his players in practice. The Wildcats lost that next day to Butler.
“He thought he’d lay back and he had an easy practice,” Alexander said. “That’s not his thing. That’s something I thought about.”
After winning the Southeast Regional last week, USC Aiken took two days off. When the team practiced, though, the Pacers kept up their intensity, something Alexander is hoping will carry over to today.
No. 20 USC Aiken faces an almost mirror image when it plays No. 7 Drury at 8:30 tonight in Louisville, Ky., in the NCAA Division II Elite Eight. The winner advances to play at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the Final Four. The national championship will be held April 7 in Atlanta.
The Pacers (25-7) and the Panthers (28-4) of Springfield, Mo., each are making their first national quarterfinal appearance. Drury, riding a 20-game winning streak, won the Great Lakes Valley conference before claiming the Midwest Regional.
The Panthers are led by shooting guard Alex Hall (19.4 scoring average), who’s recorded 109 3-pointers. Point guard Brandon Lockhart averages 12.0 points, 6.0 assists and 3.0 steals a game.
Drury averages 80.7 points a game and is outscoring opponents by an 18.3 margin.
“They’re a real run-and-gun team,” USC Aiken guard Ronald Zimmerman said. “Hopefully, we’ll step it up and play a little more defense than they do.”
The Pacers counter with senior point guard Re’mon Nelson, the Peach Belt Conference player of the year who averages 13.8 points and 6.2 assists a game. Nelson has scored 20 or more points in three of the past five games.
Zimmerman leads the team with a 15.1 scoring average on 128 3-pointers - he leads the nation averaging four 3-pointers a contest. Paul Larsen has posted 13 double-doubles, averaging 13.1 points and 8.8 boards a game. Santoine Butler (12.3 points, 6.7 rebounds) and Jesse Seilern (10.0 points, 3.8 rebounds) help balance out the production.
“(Drury) is very similar to us,” Alexander said. “We may have a little bit more size, but we’re a very similar team. They have a point guard and a shooter that lead that team. And of course we have Re’mon and Ronald Zimmerman, but we also have Paul Larsen and Santoine Butler and Jesse Seilern we can throw in there.”