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Spartans Beat PC; Now in 1st

Crazy things happen when the Presbyterian College Blue Hose and USC Upstate get together – regardless of what sport it may be. It seems like these 2 schools, which you could consider to be conference rivals, always play one another close and it comes down to the final possession. Wednesday night’s women’s hoops matchup was no exception to that assessment.


Wednesday night’s tilt would feature three of the top 10 scorers in the Big South Conference. Presbyterian Grad transfer center Bryanna Brady and Junior transfer Guard Mara Neira each averaged 12.6 points per game, tying them for 7th in the league, while Sophomore Guard Tilda Sjokvist put up an average of 12.1 per game – enough to put her at 10th. That added to the team ranking 2nd in the league in shooting at 39.1% from the field tells just a small part of the tale of how quickly they can score and flip the script – which was a key storyline in Wednesday’s battle.


The Blue Hose not only score the ball well – they also share the ball well. As a team, they led the Big South in assists per game with an average of 13.5 and boasted an 0.7 assist to turnover ratio.


On the Upstate side of things, grad transfer Point Guard Isabell West entered the game just outside the top 10 in the conference in scoring, averaging 11.5 points per game, which also makes her the team leader in scoring, as well as leading the Big South in field goal percentage at 56%. Upstate also scores the basketball well as a team, averaging just shy of 60 points in their 20 games prior to Wednesday night.


Both squads got off to a slow start, with the Spartans going 2 for their first 9 from the field – 0 for 3 from three point range. The Hose did a good job of not giving Upstate many looks from beyond the arch, and when they did, the shots just simply were not coming out of the hands well, missing off the back iron on 2 of their 3 attempts. On the flipside, PC started off 2 for 6 from the field, leading to a 4-4 tie at the first quarter media timeout.


Rebekah Gordon snapped a 3 minute and 35 second scoreless skid for the Spartans with a layup at the 2:20 mark of the first quarter, which set in motion the largest scoring run of the game for either team.


Trinity Johnson followed it with a layup on Upstate’s ensuing possession. Gordon hit another field goal followed by a jumper for 2 from Jeni Levine to end the 1st quarter with an 8-0 burst and a 12-4 lead for the Spartans.


Out of the quarter break, Isabell West upped the ante to make it a 10-0 run. In the end, the Spartans went on a 14-0 tear, totalling a 16-2 overall scoring run spanning 9:42, giving Upstate an 18-4 lead.


The Blue Hose finally got off the schneid with a steal and a fastbreak layup from Paige Kindseth at the 6:52 mark of the 2nd frame. That set the cogs in motion for Presbyterian to work their way back into it.


USC Upstate went cold over the final 3 minutes and 3 seconds of the half, during which the Blue Hose rattled off a 9-0 run with 3 consecutive three pointers from Christina Kline to tie it at 26 going to the break.


Upstate’s scoreless streak carried over into the 3rd quarter, extending to a 4:25 dry spell until Trinity Johnson split a pair of free throws at the 9:08 mark. From that point, the Spartans would once again go on a run, this time a 7-2 burst sparked by a three from Gracie Barnes with 4:12 to play in the frame – her 2nd of the game.


USC Upstate would use 2 more runs over the final 10:35 of the game – one 6-0  and the other 9-2, to build enough cushion to hold on, as Presbyterian, despite managing to pull back to a 3 point game in the closing seconds, fell just short of the comeback bid as Upstate came out on top 62-58 to move to a division 1 and Big South era-best 7-1 start to conference play and 12-9 overall.


“Their offense does a really good job of ball movement and man movement. We had to maintain our focus and discipline off the ball. Most Big South teams do a really good job of dribble driving and penetration. This group (PC) does an amazing job of basket cutting and playing off screen actions and tonight, we made that adjustment after the 2nd quarter, and we are just excited to be able to celebrate today, take a half second to breathe, and get into preparation tomorrow ”, said USC Upstate head Coach Jason Williams of the adjustments his team had to make and how it paid off.


Aside from the win that put them alone atop the Big South standings after Radford fell to Charleston Southern Wednesday night, there was plenty else to be happy about for Coach Williams’ squad.


Every player that saw the floor scored in this game. The Spartans were led by Jeni Levine, who hit a couple of clutch threes and free throws down the stretch to help push Upstate to the victory. She logged 13 points with a rebound, 2 assists, and 4 steals. Trinity Johnson was not far off, also in double figures with 12 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists, and a steal. Rebekah Gordon tabbed 8 points with 2 boards and a pair of steals. 4 other Spartans – AC Markham, Zora Fray-Chinn, Gracie Barnes, and Isabell West, each logged 6 points.


“It’s amazing what you can accomplish when nobody cares who gets the credit. I keep telling the team that all the time. Just share the ball and move it. Play with pace in space and if you’re open, shoot it. If not, move it. That’s our offensive philosophy. We aren’t going to have 1 dominant player that scores 20 a night. We want to be able to ‘share the sugar’ and have everyone be an offensive threat”, said Williams.


The Spartans will return to action Saturday as they hit the road to take on another tough challenge as well as try and put some separation between them and the team trying to chase them down for the Big South Regular season championship – the Radford Highlanders.


“We want to put punctuation on the first half of the semester. We talk about A to Z – how you start and how you finish. Tonight was a good chance for us to be collective in finishing the first half. It’s cool we get a chance to start the 2nd half on the road and see how we start the second half of conference play. Radford is really good. Mike McGuire does an amazing job of coaching and putting his kids in position to be successful. It’s gonna be a tough go at Radford, but that is where adversity comes into play and how our kids handle it. I like the confidence we have built up so far in being able to handle adversity the right way”, said Coach Williams of what they need to do to prepare for round 2 with Radford.


Tip off for the start of the 2nd go through the Big South slate is set for 2:00 PM Saturday.

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