Saint Men Fall Just Short of Championship Berth as USCA Wins 88-85 in Overtime
COLUMBUS, Ga. – The University of North Georgia men's basketball team left it all out on the court Saturday night as the Saints made their first trip back to the semfinal round of the Marvin Vanover Peach Belt Conference Basketball Championships since 2008. However, the University of South Carolina Aiken Pacers were able to make just enough plays down the stretch and in overtime to aquire the 88-85 win.
A night removed from converting just one three-pointer against Armstrong Atlantic State University, the Saints (16-12) were back to their usual form with nine treys, including six in the second half. North Georgia used a 55.6% (15-27) shooting performance in the second half to out-score the two-time defending regular-season champion Pacers (21-7) 40-35 in the second half and send the game into overtime.
North Georgia struck first in the overtime period with a layup from sophomore guard Travis Core, but USC Aiken was able to bounce right back and recapture the lead for good off Jesse Seilern's lone three of the night with 3:02 left to play. Senior Scott Windom was able to pull North Georgia within one point with a jumper from the right side with seven seconds to go, but Nelson essentially sealed the deal with a pair of free throws. The Pacers will be making their fourth trip to the PBC Tournament championship game in the last six years, but it will be their first trip since winning the crown in 2010.
49 combined turnovers marred the game's flow as neither team could establish a clear advantage with both teams scoring 30 points in the paint. What the Pacers boasted in size under the basket, the Saints made up for in efficiency, versatility and depth as they relied heavily on shots away from the basket and received 28 points from their bench.
In total, nine players between the two sides finished with double-digit point totals. North Georgia, which ended the contest shooting 42.3% (30-71) from the field, was led by Core's 21 points and six assists; 14 of his points came after halftime. The sophomore guard from Trenton, Ga. went 8-19 from the field and finished the game with three treys, including two that proved pivotal down the stretch of the second half.
Junior forward Ishmael Hollis matched Core's team-high of three treys in the game as he scored 19 points that included going 6-6 from the free throw line. Hollis, an All-PBC Second Team selection, ended the game tied with seniors Scott Windom and Robby Goldsmtih with a team-high of six rebounds.
Freshman Corey Green came off the bench to work 21 solid minutes for the Saints that saw him score 14 points off a 6-8 shooting performance while Windom rounded out the double-digit scoring for North Georgia with 13.
USC Aiken, which entered this weekend second in the most recent Southeast Region poll, had all five starters finish in double figures led by Nelson's game-high 24. Behind him, Seilern scored 18, Santoine Butler finished with 16, Ronald Zimmerman scored 14 and Paul Larsen finished with 10 points. Both Butler and Larsen recorded double-doubles in the game as Butler corralled in a game- and career-high 14 boards. Zimmerman led all scorers with four three-pointers.
USC Aiken entered halftime with a 44-39 advantage, their largest lead of the game, after the two teams swapped the lead back-and-forth nine times and were tied eight times in the first stanza. While the first half belonged to the Pacers, the second was claimed by the Saints as they fought to establish a nine-point lead twice in the stanza before Nelson hit two free throws with eight seconds remaining to send the game into overtime.