AIKEN, S.C. - The University of South Carolina Aiken women’s basketball team won their home-opener in the Convocation Center on Monday with a 75-71 thrilling victory over Wingate University.
The Pacers and head coach Mike Brandt improve to 4-1 on the season as they get set to open up play in the Peach Belt Conference later this week.
USC Aiken displayed surgical-like execution of the flex offense in the first half to the delight of the hundreds of Pacer fans in attendance on opening night. The Pacers jumped out to a 10-2 lead just 2:29 into the game on a three-point basket from Catherine Cain (Dayton, Ohio/ Ohio University).
The Bulldogs would close the gap to 10-8 at the 16:06 mark, but, four minutes later a Lindsey Sundberg (Mansfield, Conn./ E.O. Smith) three-pointer fueled an on-going Pacer run that gave USC Aiken a 21-8 lead with 7:33 left to play in the first half.
The Pacers took full advantage of their visits to the free-throw line in the first half, capped off by a perfect two-for-two trip from Brittany Bowen (Ellicott City, Md./ Mt. Hebron), which gave the Pacers their largest lead of the half, 39-23, with 4:48 left in the first stanza.
Bowen’s free-throws were part of a tremendous Pacer shooting display in the first half for USC Aiken as the Pacers connected on 17-of-20 free-throw attempts, 13-of-27 field goals and 5-of-13 three-pointers.
USC Aiken never trailed over the opening 20 minutes, taking a 48-35 lead into the locker room at halftime fueled by Cain’s 11 points.
USC Aiken’s shooting efforts cooled somewhat over the final 20 minutes and Wingate took full advantage of the stalled Pacer offense to get back into the ballgame.
The Bulldogs nibbled away at the Pacer advantage over the opening 12 minutes of the second half. Their efforts were punctuated by a Sarah Rosser three-pointer at the 8:24 mark that cut the Pacer lead to just two, 58-56.
After seemingly operating on cruise control for much of the evening, Brandt and the Pacers now found themselves in a dogfight against head coach Barbara Nelson and the Bulldogs.
Wingate pulled even with seven minutes left in regulation on a free-throw from Stefani Shuey, tying the game at 60-60.
The Bulldogs threatened to ruin the Pacers home-opener after playing from behind all night by taking their first lead of the game on two more free-throws from Shuey to go up 65-63 with just 5:21 left in the second half.
Staring at a deficit on their own scoreboard for the first time all night, the Pacers rallied over the final four minutes of regulation in a game that had tested not only their execution, but also their resilience.
The Pacers grabbed control of the lead, the momentum, and the game as Cain drained a three-pointer from the left wing to put USC Aiken up for good, 66-65, with 3:29 left in the game.
C.C. Brooks capped off a tremendous scoring effort for the Bulldogs by connecting on a lay-up with 52 seconds left that cut the Pacer lead to 72-71.
The Pacers had their will tested one final time after a missed field goal gave Wingate the ball back with 23 seconds left, allowing the Bulldogs to hold for the final shot and get one more chance to put a damper on the Pacer home-opener.
Coming out of a Wingate timeout, reigning South Atlantic Conference Freshman of the Year Kurie Washington dribbled to her left and penetrated the lane with 10 seconds left on the clock, but clutch defensive anticipation from Hannah Degraffinreed (Raleigh, N.C./Merrimack College) drew a charge against Washington, giving USC Aiken possession and the opportunity put the game away at the free-throw line.
Nakia Pinkney (Orangeburg, S.C./Orangeburg-Wilkinson) stepped to the line after receiving the inbound pass and then being fouled by Washington. Pinkney drained the first free-throw, but her second attempt bounced wide off the iron, but did not leave the cylinder, sticking between the backboard and the rim. The deadball rebound was awarded to the Pacers by virtue of the possession arrow.
Two more free-throws from DeGraffinreed would seal the opening night win for USC Aiken.
DeGraffinreed finished with 19 points and six rebounds, while Cain added 18 points for the Pacers. Sundberg nearly collected a double-double on the night, finishing with 11 points and 8 rebounds.