SAVANNAH, Ga. – Four players finished in double figures as No. 7 USC Aiken fell 63-55 to Armstrong Atlantic State in its Peach Belt Conference opener on Saturday afternoon at Alumni Arena.
Megan Starnes (Riley, Kan./Riley County) led the way for the Pacers with 15 points in the game. Starnes captured the majority of her points in the contest from the charity stripe where she was 6-for-7. Starnes also nailed four field goals, including one three-pointer. She had a game-high tying three steals to tie teammate Nakia Pinkney (Orangeburg, S.C./Orangeburg-Wilkinson) for game high honors.
Overall, Starnes was part of a Pacer effort that saw USC Aiken finish the game 19-for-21 (90.5 percent) from the free throw line.
USC Aiken’s Morgan Johnson (Marietta, Ga./Presbyterian College) and Meredith Legg (Huntersville, N.C./Hopewell) each concluded their efforts on Saturday with 11 points. Johnson had three blocks in the game, while Legg collected two steals.
Satu Leppanen (Lahti, Finland) was the final Pacer in double figures with the senior ending the game with 10 total points.
Lacey Willis guided the Pirate attack in their win with a double-double. Willis finished the game with a game-high 20 points and 10 rebounds. She was a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line and 6-for-11 from the field overall.
USC Aiken (6-2) shot a season-low 30.9 percent in the game, while Armstrong Atlantic (6-1) shot 36.7 in the game.
Legg started the second half for the Pacers much like she did the first with the senior guard obtaining the first points of a half for the second consecutive half to give the Pacers a two-point lead at 30-28 in the opening minute of the second half.
The Pacers went up 32-28 two possessions later to take its largest lead of the contest. The four-point lead was part of a 14-2 run for the Pacers that stretched back to the 5:20 mark of the first half.
The Pirates would end the Pacer run by going on a 12-0 run of their own that earned them an eight-point lead at 40-32 lead with just under 13:30 left in the game. Legg was able to put in two free throws with 13:30 left to squash the Pirate run.
Armstrong Atlantic would extend its lead to as much as 11 points with seven minutes left at 51-40. The Pacers would cut the lead to five at 51-46 a little while later behind a Legg jumper and four Johnson free throws.
The two teams would keep the score around the same over the next couple minutes before Starnes nailed a three-pointer with 1:29 left in the contest to pull the Pacers back to within four at 55-51. USC Aiken and Armstrong Atlantic would then trade crucial baskets to set the game at 57-53 going into the final 47 seconds of the game.
The Pacers could get no closer though with the Pirates escaping with the eight-point victory.
Neither squad opened the contest shooting well. USC Aiken took an early 2-0 lead on a Legg jumper in the paint and then proceeded to hold the Pirates scoreless for the first three and a half minutes of the contest. When the Pirates were finally able to score they then went on a short 6-0 run over the next minute before Legg was once again able to knock down a jumper just inside the top of the arc to cut the Armstrong Atlantic advantage to two points at 6-4.
Tina Friedrich (Douglasville, Ga./Hiram) tied the game for the Pacers at 6-6 shortly thereafter at the 14:10 mark when she was able to convert both of her free throw attempts. Armstrong Atlantic would outscore the Pacers 13-8 over the next few minutes to take a 19-14 lead going into the final media timeout of the first half at the 9:44 mark.
The Pacers would go down by as many eight points in the first half at 26-18, but Legg's three-pointer with just over two minutes left cut the Pirate lead to one point at 28-27. Almost two minutes later Starnes hit one of two free throws to tie the game at 28-28 with 11 seconds left in the first stanza. USC Aiken would then thrwart Armstrong Atlantic’s chance to take the lead over the final seconds of the half to go into intermission tied with the Pirates. The tied score at the end of the first half marked the sixth tie in the game up to that point.