Lady Pacers pick up needed road win at USC Aiken

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PEMBROKE, N.C.--Morgan Johnson scored 10 of her game-high 16 points in the first half to lead three Lady Pacers in double figures as USC Aiken (12-5, 6-5 PBC) went on the road and held off UNC Pembroke (7-10, 2-8 PBC) 56-45 in women’s Peach Belt Conference basketball on Wednesday evening at the Jones Center. It was the Lady Pacers second-straight win.

What a difference a year makes. Last season, USC Aiken fell behind 19-2 in their trip to Pembroke en route to a disappointing 66-54 defeat. That loss, coupled with UNC Pembroke sweeping the season series two weeks later in Aiken, cost the Lady Pacers a trip to the NCAA Tournament. With tonight’s revenge, USCA has now won 13 of the last 16 meetings between the two programs.

Misfiring on their first eight shots from the field seemed like another bad start at UNCP, but after falling behind 5-0, Megan Starnes knocked down a three-pointer with 15:15 on the clock, igniting an 8-0 spurt as USC Aiken would finish the final 35 minutes 24-of-47 from the field for 51.1 percent.

Starnes drained 3-of-6 from long range for 11 points to go with six of the team’s 16 assists.

After a DeNeer Davis lay-up broke a 14-14 tie and put the Lady Braves up two with 7:04 left in the half, USC Aiken closed out the stanza on an 11-4 run in which Johnson scored six points and Starnes added five. No team led by more than five in the first frame, with the Lady Pacers in front 25-20 at the break.

A quick start to the second half saw USC Aiken score seven of the first eight points to open up a 32-21 spread with 15:02 to play on a Meredith Legg fast-break bucket. Legg connected on 2-of-5 from outside the arch, but also brought her game inside, finishing 6-of-10 for the game for 14 points in 37 minutes of action.

Kristen Hobbs drilled a trey and Porcha Locklear scored on her only field goal attempt of the game as UNC Pembroke pulled within 39-32 with 8:23 to play.

The Lady Pacers countered with a decisive 10-3 run that ballooned the bulge to the largest of the game, 49-35 on a three-pointer by Satu Leppanen. She had all seven of the team’s bench points.

Johnson, who entered the game second in the PBC in field goal percentage at 60.7 percent, finished 8-of-12 from the field for her 16 points to go with eight rebounds and three assists. Jordon Thomas chipped in three points, five boards, three assists, and four of the team’s nine steals.

Natalie Ray paced the Lady Braves with a team-high nine points to go with six rebounds.

USC Aiken forced the league’s second-best ball handling team in 25 turnovers and allowed them only seven assists. UNC Pembroke could not find their shot either, finishing 17-of-49 for 34.7 percent including 4-of-14 from deep.

The Lady Pacers did not attempt a free throw on the night.

USC Aiken, ranked eighth in the first NCAA South Atlantic Region poll released earlier in the day, will travel to Savannah, Ga. for a big battle with Armstrong Atlantic State on Saturday, February 2 at 2:00 PM. The Lady Pacers defeated AASU 74-68 back on December 1 at the Convocation Center.

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