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College Basketball

Spartans’ Season Ends In Semis

It almost seems a cliche at this point to say that the USC Upstate Spartan Womens’ basketball team has had a historic season, but it is something that cannot be overstated for how true it is. Picked to finish 6th in the conference, they started their conference slate 3-0 and went on to sweep Gardner-Webb and UNC Asheville while splitting with High Point, Presbyterian, Radford, Winthrop, Longwood, and Charleston Southern. Despite a finish to the season where the Spartans dropped 3 of their last 4, they entered the Big South Conference Tournament as the #2 seed.

 

All of that regular season success culminated in opening the tournament with a dominant win over Longwood to secure their first ever appearance in the semifinals, where they would face a tough ‘rubber match’ with the Radford Highlanders with their first championship appearance at stake.

 

Radford is a team that has a reputation for being aggressive on defense and smothering their opposition. That core identity rang true in Saturday night’s semifinal matchup, as they got the Spartans out of their element early. Upstate is a team that has thrived on offensive production up and down the roster, getting down court quickly in transition, being aggressive in driving to the rim, and shooting the ball at will. They were unable to do that for most of the night as Radford swarmed to the ball and kept Upstate from finding lanes to the basket.

 

That strong defense from the Highlanders was compounded by the other key to this game– Upstate’s inability to get shots to fall even when they had a good look. While neither offense was very good (for perspective, Radford shot just 47% – 21 of 45 from the field. Most of that came in the 4th quarter to make it look better), Upstate was held to single digits in points in both the 1st and 2nd quarters, with the game mostly being forced into the hands of Trinity Johnson. Not only that, but Upstate, even when they got looks from three point range, was seemingly timid about taking them at times due to how they weren’t getting shots to fall.

 

“It was really just our shots not falling. They (Radford) are a really good defensive team. We already knew coming in that they were going to ‘wall up’. It was just a matter of finishing some plays, and unfortunately the ball just didn’t bounce in our favor”, said Trinity Johnson of the team’s shooting woes in relation to Radford’s defensive effort.

 

In total, the Spartans finished the game an abysmal 15 for 51 from the field (29.4%) and 4 of 17 from beyond the arch in a 61-45 loss to the Highlanders. Trinity Johnson and Isabell West were the lone players to score in double figures. Johnson added 16 points with 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals while West logged 13 with 3 boards and a pair of steals. AC Markham was the next closest with 7 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal.

 

“I can’t say enough about Coach McGuire and Radford. They did a phenomenal job of guarding and hit some big time shots down the stretch. I also can’t say enough about our kids. They accomplished a lot of firsts. At the beginning of June, we set out to blaze a trail at Upstate and do things that have never been done before and our group has done it”, said Upstate Head Coach Jason Williams.

 

In essence, this tournament run demonstrated that Upstate fans would be wise to hold to one of the prevalent sports cliches of today – “Trust the process.”

 

In the 2 years that Head Coach Jason Williams has been leading the program, they won the play-in game last year before bowing out to High Point in the quarterfinals. This year, they avoided the opening round and made it to the semifinals, and even though they are losing three of their key pieces – Trinity Johnson, Dakota Reeves, and Isabell West – they have a good young core coming that they can build off of.

 

“As our kids are getting accustomed to being on these stages and being in these moments, they will get better and better. It is a testament to Trinity Johnson and our 2 other seniors that have allowed us to be successful, finish 2nd, and do a lot of things that have never been done here at Upstate before. This process is not linear. You don’t hit the elevator button and go straight to the top. You have to grind and figure out these bumps and bruises along the way. We will get better and be successful down the road”, said Coach Williams.

 

“As we lose some key pieces of the puzzle, the blueprint has been left here of what success looks like. We need to use that blueprint to amplify our opportunities moving forward. This group (the young core returning) has to take the DNA that Trinity, Dakota, and Belle (Isabell West) have left with us and elevate this program to different heights and maintain the success going forward. I am really excited for where we are going and what has been left in the program these first 2 years I have been a part of this institution”, Williams later added.

 

The Spartans end the 2024 season with a final record of 16-15 and a 10-6 conference record.

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