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Johnson and Reeves Lead Spartans To Semis

The 2nd-seeded USC Upstate women’s basketball team came into this weekend’s Big South Conference Tournament with a bit of a chip on their shoulder. The Spartans were in position the last 2 and a half weeks to still have a shot for at least a share of the regular season conference championship. Unfortunately, they ended up sliding their way to a 1-4 finish. But, they had built up a 4 game cushion and were still able to easily secure the number 2 seed and an automatic bid to the quarterfinals. However, the way the season finished was not a trend this team could allow to continue with it being that ever-crucial “win or go home” time.


The Spartans certainly managed to get back to form at just the right time in dominant fashion on Thursday night against the 7 seed Longwood Lancers. Upstate led nearly wire-to-wire in the contest (37:04), and when they did trail, it was only by 2 early in the first quarter. Upstate forced 14 turnovers, scored 12 points off them, and held the Lancers to just 15 of 50 from the field without a single made three pointer.


The tone was set early as the Spartans got back to their offensive identity from the gun. They opened on a 4-0 burst that extended to an 8-4 run to the first media timeout, thanks to layups from AC Markham and Isabell West as well as a couple of Trinity Johnson free throws. Out of the break, Upstate opened up a 13-0 run with another layup from Isabell West, a Trinity Johnson triple, and a layup from Rebekah Gordon, propelling them to a 20-11 lead at the quarter break.


You could sum up that description of the 1st quarter simply by saying that the Spartans returned true to their identity, which is, as Coach Jason Williams put it earlier this season, “sharing the sugar”, and also have accurately described the rest of the game.


“It’s posted in our locker room to be selfless. We recruit selflessness and humility. You have to be able to put your ego to the side when you walk in the door if you want to be successful. Success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You cannot do it by yourself. You need other people to assist you. You also have to have the right heart posture when you are getting the help. It is really cool when you have 13,14, or 15 young ladies that are all willing to put in the work that don’t care who gets the credit, not feeling any animosity or angst towards the person who is getting their moment (in the spotlight) at the time”, said Williams.


“It is truly amazing what you can accomplish when nobody cares who gets the credit. We are moving on because our kids are really selfless and have the humility to allow each other to shine at any moment. It makes us a tough out. We have had multiple leading scorers. We tallied it and have had 7 different leading scorers this season. That’s not something many other teams can say”, he later added.


His philosophy was well-exemplified Thursday with all but 2 Upstate players that saw the floor scoring in the 60-37 victory.


They were led by Dakota Reeves, who got extremely hot when they needed her the most. She went 5 of 9 from three point range for 15 points to go with her 2 rebounds. Trinity Johnson tallied a double-double with 14 points on 4 for 11 from the field and a perfect 5 for 5 at the free throw line, on top of a new career-high 10 assists. Rebekah Gordon was a key difference maker in the paint, also logging a double-double with 11 points on 5-13 shooting from the field, and 10 rebounds, which tied her for most boards with Isabell West.


The Spartans’ play on defense was also a major story in this one. It complemented the scoring perfectly over the late third and throughout the 4th quarter. The Lancers were held to just 12 points in those 2 frames combined – just 4 in the final 10 minutes.


“I think we really stuck to our principles  and what we have been practicing all year long. We jumped to the ball and made sure that we boxed out. We know we are a great defensive team and that we can stop anybody”, said junior Forward Rebekah Gordon.


As alluded to earlier, this win is one that the Spartans had to have and so they needed to get back on track quickly following their late-season woes. Asked how they got over the hump mentally, Trinity Johnson said this.


“We finished our regular season with three losses in a row that really took a toll on us mentally. Going forward, it was the belief we had in each other ever since Summer workouts and the blood sweat and tears we put in ever since July of 2023. We went back to that constantly and that is where it all started to get us to this point”.


“It is growth. To have adversity in front of you after losing three close basketball games in a row and step up to the plate with the same attitude of hunger, coming out here attacking, not losing your confidence because the result wasn’t what you wanted, our kids did a phenomenal job of maintaining their confidence throughout and it showed today”, Coach Williams added to that point.


With the team getting back to their core and getting a convincing win to start the tournament, they have to be feeling like they can beat anyone right now, and that makes USC Upstate dangerous moving forward. They will have to wait a day to continue to show they stand on business, with semifinals set for Saturday night. The Spartans will face the winner of (3)  Radford vs (6) Winthrop at 8:00 PM that night with a spot in the championship game on the line.


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