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Rally Falls Short as Spartans Fall to Gardner-Webb

There were plenty of storylines coming into Saturday evening’s Big South Conference contest between USC Upstate and Gardner-Webb at the Hodge Center. The Spartans were fresh off their best win of the season this past Wednesday, thanks to a career-high 22 points from Miguel Ayesa. They snapped High Point’s 15-game home winning streak via an 86-81 victory in overtime. 


With that much-needed upset, the Spartans were looking to start a stretch of playing 3 of the remaining 4 regular season games at home by getting their 4th W in their last 5 while avoiding the season sweep by the Runnin’ Bulldogs. But, even with the momentum on their side and a nice crowd on hand for homecoming, there was one other storyline that came from the win at HPU that would have an impact on Saturday’s game.


Nick Alves, who averaged near 10 points and 3 rebounds per game, has 18 blocked shots, and a field goal percentage just shy of 50% this season, was placed under concussion protocol due to an incident where he was kneed in the forehead Wednesday night. 


Despite Alves’ being unavailable, the Spartans played well in the first half. After going down 3-0 early, Upstate responded by draining three consecutive three pointers– one each from Jordyn Surratt, Floyd Rideau Jr, and Trae Broadnax, snapping an 0-3 start from the field. The Spartans rode that wave to a 9-6 advantage at the first media timeout.


After the break, the momentum meter changed directions, as the Bulldogs went on an 8-5 burst to take the lead 17-14 – an advantage they would hold until the Spartans went on a 6-0 spurt to go ahead by 1 at the under 4 timeout. USCU would ultimately end the half on a 10-5 run, making for a 36-30 halftime lead. 


The Spartans shot 11 for 27 from the field in the first half – 5 of 10 from three point range and 9 for 11 from the free throw line. But, here is where a familiar – and unfortunate – storyline played out and this game became a tale of two halves. 


Gardner-Webb all but put the game away in the first 12 minutes and 10 seconds of the 2nd period by going on a 27-9 run in that span. The Spartans managed to get off the slide and whittle the Bulldogs’ lead down to as little as 6, but eventually it came to a point where every time Upstate pulled within single digits, GWU had an answer. 


In short, things evolved into a back-and-forth between a 12 and a 9 point lead for the Runnin’ Bulldogs until the final 20 seconds, when Miguel Ayesa and Trae Broadnax hit back-to-back threes to pull it back to a 5 point game. From that point, Upstate had to foul to create extra possessions, leading to GWU freshman Guard Buddy Simmons going 3-4 at the stripe to seal their 73-65 victory. 


So, where did this game go wrong? According to Upstate Head Coach Dave Dickerson, despite the lack of scoring in the 2nd half, it was more of a matter of giving credit where it’s due while acknowledging the obvious.

“They did a great job on the offensive end. They had 15 offensive rebounds. They took away our best players and we just didn’t have that third or fourth best player we needed. We couldn’t do the things we do – make outside shots and score the ball inside. We just could not get the ball. Ahmir (Langlais) had 12 rebounds and no one else had more than three or four. They were able to get 2nd chance points and any time you can get those in this league, it is going to be a back-breaker. It was a dog fight and they won it”


“Even though we were up by 6 at the half, we never had control of the game. I felt like we were all over the place. We needed someone like Nick Alves or Jalen Breazeale to come in and not only come in, but play well. They were not there for us tonight with Nick in concussion protocol and Jalen not at 100%. We aren’t at one hundred percent with our roster and we paid for it. We’re not the type of team that can lose one of our top scorers and be the team we want to be. But, Gardner-Webb played great. I thought their 2nd half was as good as I have seen in all of the Big South this year’, Dickerson later added. 


Ahmir Langlais, despite being the team leader in rebounds by a significant margin, was just the  third leading scorer, tallying 10 points with 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, and a steal. The Spartans were led by Trae Broadnax with 18 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals. Justin Bailey tallied 11 with 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal. 


The Spartans’ win over High Point now looms very large, as they hold a 1-game lead over Radford in the standings, enough to keep them in 8th place and tied with Presbyterian for 7th with just 3 regular season games remaining – 2 of which will be at home for a shot at some revenge, although that won’t be Dave Dickerson’s approach to it. 


“It’s not about revenge now – it is about winning. It is about making winning plays. If our guys go in with a mindset of revenge, we won’t play the way we need to. We just need to get healthy mentally, emotionally, and physically. If we do that and play good basketball for 40 minutes. If we can do that, we will have a great chance at winning,” said Coach Dickerson. 


The Spartans will start the home stretch this Wednesday night as they host Charleston Southern with tip off set for 7:00 PM.

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