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Spartans Fall to Bucs at Home

They say that basketball is a game of runs. Sure. That is a cringeworthy cliche. But, it always rings true. All it takes is a quick 5-0 or more burst to completely flip a game on its head. When you’re the team on the negative side of those bursts and the drought goes on for an extended period of time, things can very quickly snowball and let the game get out of hand.

 

That has been deja vu for USC Upstate’s men’s basketball team all season long. Having led up until the 7:48 mark of the 2nd half against Davidson earlier this season, a 2 and a half minute scoreless skid allowed the Wildcats to build enough of a cushion to hang on for a 62-59 win. A roughly 4 minute skid late in the 2nd half of what was a teeter-totter game with Kennesaw State led to the Owls pulling out to a 5 point lead and eventually, they pulled away to win by 7 in the final seconds. In the first meeting with Charleston Southern, Upstate had built a lead as large as 12, and with a late 7 point lead, they went cold for nearly 7 minutes, resulting in CSU completing the comeback. Those are just a few examples of the Spartans simply not playing well enough down the stretch to close out games.

 

A new concerning trend started this past Saturday against Gardner-Webb. After Upstate led by 6 at the half, Gardner-Webb exploded to a 29-7 run over the first 12 minutes after the break. But it was not just due to Upstate failing to score.cGardner-Webb dominated the battle on the glass, hauling in 15 offensive rebounds and scoring 18 second chance points. That was a significant difference maker in the 73-65 loss.

 

In Wednesday night’s return game with Charleston Southern at the Hodge Center, the rebound trend reared its head from the start. Up to the first media timeout, USC Upstate had already been out rebounded 7-4, with 6 of those 7 CSU boards being defensive. By the half, the Bucs had nearly doubled Upstate’s total rebounds with 23 to the Spartans’ 11, with 8 offensive boards and 15 defensive. Upstate was held to just 1 offensive rebound in the first 20 minutes of the game. Despite that, they somehow held a 30-28 advantage at the half.

 

The second half was a seesaw affair until USCU went on their best scoring run – an 8-0 burst spanning from the 4:50 mark to 3:04. That spurt propelled the Spartans to a 6 point lead – their largest of the night. But, that’s where the scoring stopped, as Charleston Southern finished the game on a 9-0 streak.

 

The Spartans had their share of chances to take the lead in the final seconds. Miguel Ayesa missed a pull up jumper for three and the lead with 7 ticks left on the clock. The defensive board went to CSU, and Upstate was forced to foul to create an extra possession. CSU’s Kalib Clinton split the free throws, giving Upstate one final chance to drive the length of the court and put up a three to force overtime. However, Trae Broadnax was late getting the shot out of his hands and Charleston Southern was able to complete the season sweep with a 63-60 victory, out rebounding USC Upstate 43-25. Twenty-nine of the Bucs’ boards were defensive, and their 14 offensive rebounds led to 16 second chance points. Upstate had just 3 offensive rebounds on the night, and that plus the late drought was the difference.

 

“We just could not close the game. We had a 4 point lead with under 3 minutes to go. That’s the kind of game you have to win when – especially at home. But, we made all the plays not to win it. That’s on me. I have to get this team to be able to rebound the basketball. When you get outrebounded by 18 with 14 offensive rebounds, that’s tough”, said Upstate Head Coach Dave Dickerson.

 

Pushing their scoring woes aside, the Spartans still had several bright spots on offense. Justin Bailey was clicking well tonight to the pace of a team-leading 17 points with 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 4 steals, despite being limited in practice earlier this week due to an undisclosed foot issue. Trae Broadnax also continued to do what he has been all season long with a 10 point, 6 rebound, 2 steal night.

 

But, perhaps the best, and certainly the most surprising bright spot, was Jorge Ochoa. The sophomore transfer from the University of Vermont made a lot of key shots as he logged a career-best 11 points to be the 2nd-leading scorer on the night. He also added an assist, a steal, and 2 rebounds.

 

“Jorge was great after the Gardner-Webb game. His demeanor in practice on Monday and yesterday was spectacular, and when you get that kind of mindset, you are gonna play well. He can do a little of everything for us. He is tough under the board. A little undersized, especially against a team as big as Charleston Southern, but his toughness and ability to make a big shot, drive the basketball, and make the right play off the dribble has been good for us. He is peaking when we need a difference maker, and we are gonna need one these next three games. Especially if we want to turn these next 3 games into 5 games. Hopefully he can continue to do what he has done these last 48 hours to give us that”, said Dickerson.

 

The Spartans’ road the remainder of the way through the regular season doesn’t get much easier – although nothing ever comes easy in the Big South Conference. They will have to go on the road one last time Saturday to face Winthrop, who lost a tough one to Presbyterian on Wednesday night. Speaking of PC, the Spartans wrap up the regular season against them this coming Wednesday at the Hodge Center.

 

“This one stings. This is a game we needed and we couldn’t get it. Now we have to go out and play our best basketball at Winthrop, which is not an easy place to play. But, there are 2 games left in the regular season and at least 1 in the conference tournament. Everyone is in the same situation. They’re all striving for 1 thing – to get to the NCAA tournament. Nobody is in right now, so we have to play our way in. We will do a good job as a coaching staff with our players and they will respond. I know that because they are great kids. We will give ourselves a chance to go to Winthrop and get our biggest win of the year”, said Dave Dickerson of the end-of-season stretch and what’s next.

 

Tip off between Upstate and Winthrop is set for Saturday afternoon at 2:00 PM while the regular season finale tips at 7:00 Wednesday.

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