Spartans Win Final Non-Conference Game
USC Upstate came into Saturday’s final non-conference game of the season against Coker University on a 3 game losing skid, and while it is tough to say that this was a must-win game for the Spartans, the looming start to Big South Conference play definitely gave the vibe that the Spartans needed a good night. Going up against a division II opponent, they had a good opportunity to get things back on track, even if it did not come easily.
Coker was 6-5 on the season coming in, averaging near 98 points per game and just over 36 rebounds per game. They play a very aggressive style of basketball that forces their opposition to pass the ball quite a bit while forcing a lot of turnovers. They also were shooting 70% from the free throw line as a team – a stat that played a huge role in Saturday afternoon’s contest.
The game got off to a slow start both ways. After securing the stone on the opening tip, Coker scored the game’s first points on a floating jump shot. After a quick answer from Upstate on a Jordyn Surratt layup and a pair of free throws from Ahmir Langlais, the Cobras tied it up at 4 on a driving layup to send the game to the first media time out with 15:30 to play in the half.
It took nearly a minute after the break for either team to find the hoop again, as Jordyn Surratt slammed home the first of back-to-back dunks to open up an 8-4 lead. From that point on, the game had 2 story lines.
The Spartans dominated in the paint, outscoring the Cobras 32-16 from inside the arch in the first half, and finished the game having out performed them 60-32 from the interior. The Spartans also got 43 points off the bench throughout the course of the day.
The other storyline was the early foul trouble. The key difference that kept the game close at the half was the disparity in the foul/free throws attempted category. Upstate Committed 13 personals in the opening 20 minutes, which Coker took full advantage of, going 18-19 from the line. On the flipside, the Spartans attempted (and made) just 4 free throws in the first half. The 2nd half was not much kinder for USC Upstate, as Coker was 12-18 at the stripe, giving them a 30-37 night at the charity stripe.
Despite the 26 personal fouls, the Spartans’ lone player with more than 3 was Justin Bailey, who fouled out with just 2 points, a rebound, and an assist.
After going into the intermission up 44-38, Upstate started the 2nd stanza on a 9-2 run, which was all the cushion they would end up needing to put the Cobras away for good. The Spartans opened up as big a lead as 23 points at the 7:35 mark of the frame, and went on to win 96-76 to improve to 5-8 on the season.
USC Upstate got a huge performance out of Jordyn Surratt, who led the team with a career-high 20 points with 7 rebounds and 4 assists. Nick Alves was not far behind him with 18 points (also a career-high), 5 boards, an assist, and a steal.
“We need those guys to play well. Ahmir had to cover on the perimeter tonight, which was not good for us. But, Jordyn Surratt and Nick were big. Rebounding, finishing, playing with some toughness. That’s what we needed. We need them to play well for the whole season. If we can get those 2 guys playing well consistently, it helps our team to be the team we think we can be”, said Coach Dickerson.
Trae Broadnax, despite leaving with an undisclosed injury late in the 2nd half, tallied 16 points with 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Floyd Rideau Jr just narrowly missed double figures with 9 points, 3 rebounds, and an assist.
“I thought our guys were resilient tonight. They did a good job of not panicking even though the score was not on our side for the first 10 minutes of the first half. They stayed with it, stayed patient, and showed some maturity for the first time this year. We did an awful job of keeping the ball in front of us. We sent them to the line 19 times in the first half. But other than that, I loved our maturity and our play off the bench. Jalen Brezeale came in and played like a veteran even though he is going through his achilles and shoulder injuries. He came in and calmed our guys down. Nick and Jordyn played their best games in an Upstate uniform, but I thought Jalen Brezeale and Trae Broadnax really calmed us down”, said Dickerson when asked about his general thoughts on the game.
As a team, the Spartans tallied away 23 assists, which is a testament to the way Dickerson has wanted his team to play all season – sharing the ball well.
“We knew they were not going to let us dribble the ball a lot. So we had to be a great passing team and make extra swings. I thought our guys did a great job of that. The goal tonight was to have 20 plus assists and not turn the ball over. They moved the ball, really looked for each other and layed the right way. We are not gonna see a team that plays that style of basketball for 40 minutes but I thought our guys stayed patient and were mature. They played their best basketball when we needed to”, said Dickerson.
“I feel good about our team and program right now. Hopefully we can get some rest and come back and get focused again. This is who we are right now and this is what we have to look forward to. I love the Big South Conference. There’s some gold players and coaches. But I love our chances”, Dickerson added when asked about what is ahead after the New Year.
The Spartans will now flip the calendar and begin Big South Conference play on Wednesday night as they go on the road for the first men’s basketball installment of the new official “I-26 rivalry” series with defending conference champion UNC Asheville. Tip off is set for 6:00 PM.