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Upstate Athletics

College Basketball

Spartans Claim Second Conference Win

After a 1-7 start to conference play, it would be easy for many young college basketball teams to go ahead and mail it in and start looking ahead to the next season. That has not been the case with the USC Upstate Spartans. 


Upstate has been in nearly every conference game they have played only to have it get away from them down the stretch or in the final seconds. The 2 most recent examples of that were this past Wednesday night, when the Spartans fell 80-73 on the road at Presbyterian in a game where they were ahead by as much as 5 early in the 2nd half only to fall by 7. Another prime example was the last time they met up with Saturday’s opponent – the Radford Highlanders. 


In the previous meeting, Upstate tied the game as the seconds wound down only to have DaQuan Smith hit a buzzer-beating three to give the Highlanders the 64-61 victory. That was the Spartans’ 2nd loss at the horn in a 4-game stretch to start Big South Conference play. 


After so many games like that, and with the schedule winding down to the last month of the regular season, it goes without saying that the Spartans needed a win in the worst way – and they were due for a game that they dominated. All of that finally came to fruition on Saturday afternoon as the Spartans led wire-to-wire en route to their 2nd conference win of the season. 


“This is probably our best performance from wire to wire that we’ve had all year. We haven’t played this well since East Carolina, really. And to see our guys not lose faith in the season and give ourselves a chance to have a good February is, for me as a head coach, what you want to see. I told them if you give in, then you’re going to give in to everything because I’m not going to give up. I’m going to keep rolling. I’m going to keep coaching. I’m going to keep coaching you hard and loving you off the court and on the court until we give ourselves a chance to be the team that we can be”, said USC Upstate Head Coach Dave Dickerson of his team’s effort tonight and their mentality through the rough stretch. 


Things didn;t take long to get into gear as USC Upstate got the scoring started on their 2nd possession of the game when Justin Bailey drained a contested three from the right side of the top of the key, which also set the tone for one of the game’s key takeaways. 


Upstate shot well from beyond the arch, finishing the game 11-28 (just shy of 40 percent – a far cry from being held under 30% in each of their last 5 games). Justin Bailey was 3 for 5 from long range while Eddie Placer went 2 for 4, Trae Broadnax was 2-5, and Nick Alves was 2 of 7. Miguel Ayesa and Jalen Breazeale also each made a three pointer in the game. 


Out of the first media timeout, the Spartans opened up a double digit lead thanks to a 3:23 scoreless skid by the Highlanders that allowed Upstate to go on an 8-0 burst, making it 15-5. From there, the story turned into a battle of matching runs with runs. 


Radford went 3 for 4 from three point range in a 6-0 streak and pushed it to 8-2 spanning the next 2:41 to the under 12 break, cutting the Upstate lead to 17-11. Jumping ahead to the under 4 media, both sides went 4 for their previous 5, however it was Upstate maintaining the 33-27 lead thanks to 3 of those 5 coming from beyond the arch. 


That lead would shrink dramatically as the Spartans went ice cold for the final 3:35 of the half, which was compounded by a 7-0 Radford push to the break, where Upstate led 33-30. 


The Spartans’ skid continued into the 2nd half before Nick Alves broke open the floodgates of another long run with a three from the left wing with 19:23 to play. Upstate outscored Radford 11-0 over the next 4:00 before DaQuan Smith hit a trey at the 14:42 mark. 


Radford would cut the game close one more time with an 11-1 run spanning 3:12 coming to the under 8, where Upstate led 58-54. But, down the stretch, the Spartans did something they have struggled with lately – they hit free throws. 


Upstate finished the night 8 for their last 13 at the charity stripe, making for a 13-20 night at the line in total. That proved to be the difference as the Spartans pulled out the win 78-69, demonstrating that they got back to their identity this week in the process. 


“I thought Coach Nori (Johnson) and Coach Drew (Garcia) did a good job with our guys as far as going back to our identity. And our identity is that we have to play unselfish basketball. We gotta be great teammates and we’ve got to be really totally unselfish. And the 20 assists was more of who we are. I don’t know if we can do that all the time, but we gave ourselves a chance to see who we are at our best”, said Dickerson.


Upstate was led by Trae Broadnax, who although his streak of 9 straight games scoring in double figures was broken against Gardner-Webb last Saturday, has a new streak going with 2 in a row. He also added 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and a steal. 


More impressive than Broadnax’s performance was the 2nd half showing from Nick Alves, without which we could have seen a different result. Alves tied with Justin Bailey as 2nd leading scorer with 14 points, adding 7 boards and an assist – making this by far one of his best games as a Spartan. 


“Nick did the best he’s done since he’s been here of getting from one half to the next. I coach Nick hard and I told him that you are one of our best players and you gotta start playing like one of our best players. You’ve gotta be aggressive and you’ve got to have no regrets. I thought the second half he played that way – with no regrets. In order for us to be the team that we need to be, I’m confident Trae (Broadnax) and Justin Bailey are going to be aggressive, but we need Nick to be aggressive both offensively and defensively. He was in the second half tonight”, said Dickerson.


Aside from the leading three scorers, Patrick Iriel was a perfect 4 for 4 from the field in the first half, giving him 8 points to go with 2 assists and 4 rebounds. Eddie Placer tabbed 6 points while Miguel Ayesa and Jalen Breazeale each logged 5. 


The Spartans, now 7-15 overall and 2-7 in the Big South, will go back on the road looking for back to back conference wins for the first time this season Wednesday night, taking on a Longwood team that will no doubt be looking for some revenge for their last second 73-71 loss in the Hodge Center 2 and a half weeks ago. Tip off is set for 7:00 PM.

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