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Spartans Win Fourth Straight Conference Game

USC Upstate Men’s Basketball Coach Dave Dickerson has harped on 1 thing in his postgame press conferences over the last 2 weeks. That thing is “Playing the right way.” 


What is the right way? Being unselfish, sharing the ball, and playing connected together as a team. That has been the story of the last 3 games for the Spartans, and it has translated into them undoubtedly playing their best ball of the season at the best possible time. 


Upstate came in having won 3 consecutive games for the second time this season. In that stretch, they knocked off league leader UNC-Asheville 76-70, avenged an earlier loss to Charleston Southern 77-60, and completed their first season sweep of the Winthrop Eagles since 1984 this past Saturday in Rock Hill with a  79-70 victory. 


Wednesday night, USCU had a shot at creating their longest win streak of the season and splitting the series with the Longwood Lancers, who came into the night already locked into the Big South Conference Tournament with a first round bye, guaranteed to be one of the top 6 finishers in the standings. Upstate, with the aid of its win streak, was also in a position to keep themselves in the race for a bye, sitting in a 3 way tie with Campbell and Winthrop for 5th place. 


There was plenty on the line for the Spartans, and they would need to come out hot to meet the challenge. 


One thing Dave Dickerson says he has stressed to his team is “winning the first 4 minutes of each half.” The Spartans did just that tonight, winning an all-out back and forth war where both teams struggled to get going offensively in the first half to take a narrow 10-9 lead to the first media timeout. In the 2nd half, the Spartans opened on an 11-5 tear that Coach Dickerson says really helped give the boost of confidence his team needed to get the job done. 


“We talk about winning the first four minutes of each half, and our guys did that tonight. I thought the first “war” of the second half really gave us that confidence that we can win this game. Our guys are playing the right way. They’re playing unselfishly. We had 14 assists on, like, 27 field goals tonight, which shows that the guys are passing the ball. I wrote on the board at halftime to just be great teammates and be totally unselfish, and that’s what our guys did tonight.” 


Aside from playing unselfish ball, another key in the streak for the Spartans has been the contributions of their seniors, who all played well against Longwood. Mysta Goodloe pulled down 6 rebounds and notched 5 assists to go with his 5 points. Khydarius Smith was one of 4 Spartans that scored in double figures with 14 points on 6-10 shooting and 4 rebounds. Nick Alves had just 5 points, but hit one of the biggest free throws of the game late to go with his 2 rebounds. The importance of their quality of play was something Coach Dickerson could not stress enough. 


“We’re only gonna be good as our seniors take us. In order to win in this conference, we need our upperclassmen to play well and play winning basketball. Mysta (Goodloe) has done that. Khy (Smith) made some big plays tonight and Nick (Alves) made some big plays tonight. Those three guys are our seniors and they’re playing the right way and they’re playing winning basketball.”


Aside from the hot start to the 2nd half on the offensive end, Upstate also played well defensively in the frame, limiting Longwood to just 10-31 from the field (32%). Throughout the course of the game, the Spartans’ defense limited the Lancers’ 3 point shooting attack, which is normally one of the toughest to defend in the Big South, to just 9-20 from beyond the arch. The Spartans’ defensive attack, which ranked 69th in the NCAA  in forced turnovers, created 11 against the Lancers, which led to 20 points. 


USC Upstate ultimately held off a late Longwood rally in which they pulled it back to within a possession, sealing the deal on a huge wide open dunk from Khydarius Smith with 10 ticks left on the clock for their 4th straight win. The win pushed their record to .500 on the season (13-13) and helped them surpass the .500 mark in Big South Conference play (8-7). 


“It was a great win for our team, a great win for our program, and a great win for our university. Longwood is a good team. They put so much pressure on you offensively and defensively. I thought our guys stayed connected and stayed composed and that really gave us an opportunity to make plays on both ends. But our second half defense was outstanding. Probably the best half we had all year. And we needed it against a good Longwood team. Our guys are playing the right way and they’re playing winning basketball on the defensive end. Our scouting reports are in depth and our guys understand our principles. It’s good to see our defensive principles take over in the second half of the season because you can’t go over every play that Longwood runs because they run a lot of stuff in the half court. But our defensive principles and our connectivity have been really, really good”, said Dickerson of his team’s effort. 


Jordan Gainey led the way for Upstate in the 72-67 win with 17 points on 6 of 17 shooting with 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and a steal. Justin Bailey was a close 2nd with 15 points on 5 of 12 from the field. Khydarius Smith tallied 14 on 6-10 with 4 rebounds and a block. Trae Broadnax just missed a double double, logging 11 points on 4 of 7 from the floor with 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and a steal. 


The Spartans have a great opportunity to build on this momentum and extend the streak with a favorable schedule the next 2 games. Starting with a road trip to High Point Saturday afternoon. Asked about what lies ahead, Dickerson gave this preview of the Panthers. 


“That’s gonna be a tough game and it’s gonna be very similar to tonight to where we have to keep those guys out of the paint. They got great guards. They got one of the best floor men in the conference. And so we gotta do a good job of really defending without fouling and finishing possessions. I think if we can do that, we can have some success, but those guys play well at home and, and, and our defense has to travel in order for us to get a win on the road.” 


Following the game with High Point, which tips off at 4:00 PM, the Spartans will once again hit the road to Clinton for their final date with the Presbyterian College Blue Hose, as they gun for the season sweep Wednesday night at 7:00 PM in the Templeton Center. 


Upstate has just one more home game this season – the regular season finale against Gardner-Webb, which will double as homecoming for the University. Tip off for that game will be at 2:00 PM on Saturday, February 25th. 


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