Spartans Upset Big South Leader Asheville
On a chilly early February afternoon, the atmosphere within the G.B. Hodge Center was anything but. It was a special day in which the newest USC Upstate Athletics Hall of Fame inductees were to be honored, including the 1982 NAIA National Championship team. So, to mark the occasion, the USC Upstate Spartans hosted the Big South Conference leading UNC-Asheville Bulldogs in a regional rivalry series dating back to 2007.
The Bulldogs held the upper hand in the series 9-5 entering Saturday’s 14th meeting between the 2 sides, with Asheville having won the last 2 matchups, most recently a 64-58 win up in Western NC back on January 21st. But, don’t let those 2 facts fool you. If there is anything that describes the Big South Conference accurately, it is 1 word – chaos.
As Coach Dave Dickerson so aptly pointed out in his postgame press conference, “Well, it is not revenge in this conference. Everybody’s close.”
When you look over the Big South Standings, especially after tonight, everyone is close. Last week, the top 6 in the conference were all within a game of each other. After tonight, there are 3 ties in the top 3 three quarters of the standings.
Going back to the story of the series between these 2, Upstate and UNC-A have split the season series for each of the last 2 seasons. So, as with most rivalries, especially in mid-major college basketball, anything goes when these 2 meet.
Last time out:
- Upstate fell to Campbell 78-66 on Wednesday night despite a career-best 20 points from Trae Broadnax, who shot 80 percent in the game including a perfect 3 for 3 from beyond the arch. It was his 4th career game with 15 or more points scored. Jordan Gainey also had 15 points, while Justin Bailey had 13 points for his 12th game in double figures this season. The loss was their 6th in the last 8 games.
Saturday afternoon, the Spartans established an early lead with a 6-0 run going to the under 16 timeout. In spite of that, the Bulldogs, led by 6’ 10” Senior Forward Drew Pember, ripped off a 12-0 run that spanned the next 5 minutes, giving them a 19-15 lead. That streak was snapped by a three from Justin Bailey with 8:21 to play in the half, and just minutes later, Upstate reclaimed the lead for good on a hook shot from Ahmir Langlais, who was the hero of the 1st half with 6 points and 9 rebounds (6 of which were defensive).
While Langlais’ efforts helped keep the Spartans in the fight for the 1st half, it was Khydarius Smith that really got things going for Upstate. Smith came in off the bench and played just 3:50 of the 1st frame. But, in that span of time, he went 2 for 3 from the field. He kept the momentum going into the 2nd half, playing all but a minute, and going 6-9 shooting with 13 points, 3 boards, and 2 assists, ultimately helping lead USC Upstate to break their losing skid with a 76-70 win.
“[Ahmir is] a really good rebounder. He was a great defensive rebounder, which gave us that momentum to make for those empty possessions when we turned the ball over. He did that in practice yesterday; he got every rebound. So, today, we went to him early. Seny [N’Diaye] didn’t have it today, and so Ahmir and Khy had to be our post anchor. Ahmir played well in the first half – 9 rebounds – that’s big time. But, Khy was the spark we needed. We played through that rough spot through him and he scored some big buckets for us.”, said Dickerson in regards to their combined efforts that carried the team.
There were a lot of positives to note from the game for Upstate. One of those is the pace of the game helped things to flow much more easily. The Spartans have had a few games over the last 2 weeks where foul trouble and stoppages of play were key factors. Today, there were just 35 personals called combined between the 2 squads, most of which came in the final 5 minutes as the Bulldogs were forced to foul in order to try and get back into the mix once Upstate took their largest lead of the game at 11 points just under the 6 minute mark. But that is a far cry from the near 50 fouls called against Presbyterian and Radford in the Spartans’ last 2 home games.
Another positive was that they took full advantage of those late fouls to pull away. Upstate has had struggles with free throw shooting down the stretch in games lately. But, Saturday, they were 9 of 10 at the stripe over the last 5 minutes. Overall in the game, they were 15-19 (79%), which had Dave Dickerson pleased, not just with the effort at the line, but in his team’s performance as a whole, getting the win despite 20 turnovers that led to 21 points for the Bulldogs.
“If you’re gonna win basketball games, you gotta defend, you gotta rebound, and you gotta take care of the basketball. We defended and rebounded, but we didn’t take care of the ball. We are a better free throw shooting team than we are right now, but we have always made free throws this year when we have needed them. The first half is the half that kills with free throw shooting, but our guys stayed focused and played with composure for 40 minutes. I thought our guys were connected. They stayed with it. We played through the rough times and we played through the good times and so that’s a good thing for us. When we lose our composure, then everything falls apart. But, it was good to see Mysta [Goodloe] and Khy, our two seniors, play well and it was just phenomenal to see the seniors step up and be great Spartans today. This is how good we can be. Now, we’ve gotta be more consistent to come out and do this against a very good Charleston Southern team on Wednesday night.”
Among other noteworthy stats, the Spartans had 4 players in double figures. Jordan Gainey led the way with 19 points on 4 of 9 shooting, including 3 of 5 from three point range with 2 assists and 3 rebounds. Justin Bailey and Trae Broadnax each logged 14 on a combined 10 for 21 from the field with 5 combined assists and 9 total boards. Khydarius Smith finished with 13 points (as noted earlier), making the Spartans 8-1 on the season when they have 4 or more guys score in double figures. USCU also outrebounded Asheville 36-26, with 24 of those boards being defensive – a definite difference maker in this game.
Asheville was led by Drew Pember with 29 points on 8 of 15 from the field (11 of 14 from the free throw line) with 8 rebounds and 2 assists. The lone other Bulldog in double figures was Caleb Burgess with 10 on 5-6 shooting and 6 assists.
The Spartans, now 10-13 overall, and tied with Campbell for 4th at 5-7 in the Big South, as noted in the quote from Dave Dickerson above, will host Charleston Southern Wednesday night with tipoff set for 7:00 PM.