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Upstate Athletics

College Basketball

Upstate Falls to Kennesaw State

It felt like this game was being played in March.”

 

That one line from Coach Dave Dickerson’s postgame press conference could accurately summarize the absolute slugfest between USC Upstate and Kennesaw State Saturday Night at the Hodge Center.

 

The Spartans returned home after picking up a solid 85-82 win on the road at NC Central to face a very good Kennesaw State Owls team that was averaging over 31 three point attempts per game and playing with the 2nd fastest pace in the nation (according to KenPom). In short, this was a game that had a tournament feel to it against a team that was in the tournament a year ago and may very well be again. The Spartans were going to have to pass efficiently, slow down the Owls’ pace, and match them blow for blow in order to come out on top and get their record to .500.

 

Both teams managed to trade blows back and forth, with neither team able to build more than a 7 point lead before the other came storming back. On the defensive side of things, the Owls played very physical, limiting the Spartans’ ability to drive into the paint, which although it was helpful to the Spartans as far as slowing KSU down, also forced Upstate to have to shoot a lot of threes. The Spartans started out 0-5 from beyond the arch, and in total, shot just 20% from the field in the game’s opening 4 minutes.

 

Despite their struggles, the Spartans still stayed true to their defensive identity – producing turnovers and coming up with steals. Upstate forced 16 turnovers in this one, and poached the ball 8 times – 2 less than their season average through all 9 games so far.

 

Naturally, with both teams playing aggressively, foul trouble and free throw shooting also played a major factor, if not arguably the deciding factor. There were a combined 44 whistles in this game. Unfortunately for Upstate, despite 33 free throws attempted, they only hit on 23 of them, thanks in large part to an 11-12 night at the stripe for Justin Bailey, who once again led the team with 21 points –  a new career-high for the Sophomore out of Blue Ridge.

 

“I just feel bad he (Bailey) got in foul trouble because we needed 30 from him. He was in a groove and he is the one guy on our team that can play back-to-back-to-back possessions and keep going and get stronger. He and Trae (Broadnax) getting in early foul trouble really took us out of rhythm as a team and took those 2 guys out of rhythm from scoring the ball. But this is the type of game where Justin could have scored 40 points by himself”, said Coach Dickerson.

 

In the end, it was the stellar play of KSU Senior Guard Terrell Burden that ended up icing it away. Burden led the way for the Owls with 20 points on 10-14 shooting, including 9-12 from the field and a perfect 6-6 in the 2nd half to go along with his 5 steals and 6 assists. On top of Burden, the Owls also got a significant contribution from Sophomore Guard Simeon Cottle, who sealed the game with 1 play. Cottle fielded a loose ball off a pass deflection around half court. He appeared to have dropped the ball and picked it back up over the time line, which could’ve been a backcourt violation, but instead, he turned back, set his feet, and launched a 40 foot jump shot from near the baseline and drained it perfectly, giving the Owls an 82-77 lead with just under 30 seconds to play in the game they went on to win 84-77.

 

In total, the Owls had 5 players notch double figures while USC Upstate had 4, one of which may not come as a surprise to anyone that has watched him shoot. Miguel Ayesa, the grad transfer Guard from William and Mary that hails from Madrid, Spain, started out 4-4 from beyond the arch, and continuously seemed to hit long threes exactly when Upstate needed them. He finished the night 5-7 from long distance with 15 points, making him the Spartans’ 2nd leading scorer on the night.

 

Another positive for the Spartans from this game is that Jalen Brazeale, who is still recovering from an achilles injury, logged in double figures for the first time since the home opener against Carolina University on top of tying a career high in assists with 5.

 

Asked his thoughts on the night, Dave Dickerson had this to say.

 

“We didn’t talk a lot after the game. I just told them we have a week to dissect this game and get ready for final exams. But I tip my cap to Kennesaw State. They played like a championship level team. I told our guys to admire that locker room because that is what we want to be here at Upstate. We want to be able to go on the road and win a big game and then come home and win another big game. We knew this game was going to be played outside the lines a little bit. We talked about making plays, and they made 2 more plays than we did in a 40 minute game.”

 

“I thought our guys played hard. We were well-prepared. We knew Kennesaw State was gonna be able to make plays outside the line. We had some guys that didn’t show up on the offensive end, but I thought our defense and rebounding were good enough to win”, Dickerson later added of his team’s effort.

 

The Spartans, now 4-6 on the season, will have a week to prepare for their next contest, which will also be at home, marking the first run of back to back home games all season. They will take on Western Carolina next week with tipoff set for 4:30 PM.

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