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Spartans Fall to Winthrop In Overtime

Big South Conference play got underway for the USC Upstate Spartans this past Wednesday night on the road with the first installment of the “I-26 Rivalry” series in men’s basketball between the Spartans and the UNC Asheville Bulldogs. Despite Upstate taking an early lead, the team picked pre-season to be #1 in the league showed why as they managed to wear down and put the Spartans away 95-67. 


Following that loss, USC Upstate returned to the Hodge Center Saturday evening looking to not only pick up their first conference win of the season, but also to show that they are capable of being a much stronger team than what their record or Wednesday night would lead one to believe. In order to do that, Upstate would have to beat a Winthrop team that averaged 78.2 points per game, shot 71.2% from the free throw line, and averaged 38 rebounds per contest through their first 16 games. 


Upstate would have to be on their P’s and Q’s to keep pace in this game, and would also have another hurdle to overcome as Jordyn Surratt would be unavailable with an illness. 


The game got off to a very good start for the Spartans, as they jumped out to a 9-5 lead at the first media timeout, shooting the three ball with effectiveness. Upstate started 3 for 4 from beyond the arch with makes from Justin Bailey, Nick Alves, and Jalen Breazeale. In the game as a whole, Upstate shot 11-33 from long range. 


“It is very important for us to make threes. I am always a cup half full guy. We have to make threes to be a good team and we left a lot of them out there. I thought our guys got a little timid for the first time since I have been here and passed up some good looking threes I felt we could make automatically”, said Upstate Head Coach Dave Dickerson of his team’s three point shooting.


Upstate added on to the early lead, building up as big an advantage as 9 points at the 14:18 mark of the first half before they went colder than the wintry temps outside of the GB Hodge Center. 


Coming to the under 12 timeout, the Eagles went on a 6-0 run and extended it to a 13-0 run leading to the under 8. In that time span, the Spartans went 6 minutes and 19 seconds without a basket before Nick Alves broke the streak with a layup at the 7:38 mark to cut the deficit to just 2, which would be erased on the next possession by an Ahmir Langlais layup. 


From there, the big story of the game reared its ugly head. USC Upstate managed to keep pace all game long, rallying from deficits ranging from 6 to 10 points on several occasions only to have Winthrop pull back ahead – a lot of which had to do with the discrepancy in the foul and free throw shooting numbers. 


Upstate had an abysmal night at the line, going just 9 for 20 while the Eagles went to the line 37 times and hit on 25 of them. That would ultimately be the difference in the game. But to leave the story there would undercut the Spartans’ incredible effort in the 2nd half. 


Coming out of the under 4 break of the period, USC Upstate trailed 69-65. Winthrop re-upped the ante to 6 points and once again to 3 points after the Spartans pulled within 1 before Miguel Ayesa made a splash by tying the game at 71 with a three from the left corner with 23 ticks left on the clock. 


Upstate would get a shot at the win in regulation after a bad pass gave them the ball back with 22 seconds to play. As the clock wound down, Jalen Breazeale narrowly missed a three from near the top of the key where the ball rolled around the inside of the rim before springing back out, sending the game to overtime. 


The back-and-forth continued in the free period, once again coming down to Winthrop making their free throws and forcing USC Upstate to either settle for a game-tying field goal in the last seconds or try and hit a winning 3. As the seconds waned, trailing 82-80, USCU had 2 great open looks at a game-winning three, but missed on both, sending the Eagles back to Rock Hill with their 2nd straight hard-fought overtime win and a 2-0 record in the Big South. 


“I knew our guys would come back and bounce back from the UNC Asheville game on Wednesday night. We showed a lot of resolve – a lot of resiliency. We played with a lot of toughness. We got a great start and built a sizable lead. But we couldn’t put the ball in the basket and just couldn’t make our free throws tonight. Hats off to Winthrop. They made plays and their best players were their best players”, said Upstate Head Coach Dave Dickerson. 


“I’d love to have the free throws back but aside from that, the effort and resiliency of our guys was unmatched tonight. But, we need this team to be able to make the plays we need to make when we need to make them. We went 9-20 at the line tonight. We have to make those.They call them free throws for a reason”,Dickerson later added.


USC Upstate had 5 players score in double figures despite the loss. They were led by Nick Alves, tallying 16 points, 3 rebounds, and an assist. Ahmir Langlais was not far off, putting up a double-double with 14 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 blocks.


“Nick is playing at a good clip in his last year of college basketball. We need him to play well and consistently play well. Ahmir is good. He has some goals for this year, which is his last. He wants to average a double-double. We need Ahmir. I have always said we need our older players and our best players to play well all the time”, said Dickerson. 


 Miguel Ayesa also had 14 points to go with 2 boards and a steal. Trae Broadnax logged 13 points with 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, and a block while Justin Bailey scored 12 with 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and a pair of steals. 


The Spartans (5-10, 0-2 Big South) will have the midweek off, returning to action next Saturday at Charleston Southern. Tip off is set for 5:30 PM – a break Dave Dickerson welcomes. 


“It is important for us to have a bye. We have some guys that are barely playing. It’s coming at the right time so that we can get better. We came off a tough game at Asheville and showed we can be a good team. Now we have to keep adding to that. It will take a week to do that.” 

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