by Justin Mathis, @J_Math23

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – After dropping a tough one over the weekend, the USC-Upstate Spartans aimed to close out a two game homestand on a positive note before the Thanksgiving holiday.

On this night, a strong performance off the bench from Deion Holmes propelled the Spartans to a 79-59 victory over the Paine College Lions at the Hodge Center.

For the second time in as many games, Upstate built an early lead. Mike Cunningham tallied four of the Spartans’ first six points, staking them to a four point advantage. After Paine’s Babe Murphy knocked down a jumper, Upstate went on a 9-2 run to extend their lead to 15-6 less than six minutes into the first half.

The Lions trimmed the deficit to 15-12 near the midway point of the opening frame, but the Spartans launched an attack from the arc, which enabled them to take a 41-26 lead into the halftime break.

“I thought our kids continued to play,” Upstate head coach Kyle Perry said. “They didn’t get caught up in the score. I thought for the most part that it was a pretty complete game. We still have to improve our rebounding… we’re getting beat on the glass too much and that’s a problem.”

Paine started the second half strong and cut Upstate’s lead down to ten points twice, the latter instance being a 49-39 deficit at the 12:56 mark in the second stanza. But then, Holmes and the Spartans kicked things into another gear, starting with an 8-0 run that helped create a 57-39 lead at that juncture of the contest.

The junior guard, who played at nearby Chesnee High School, poured in 16 of his 24 points in the second half. Holmes knocked down nine of his 18 shot attempts from the field, including a trio of three pointers, a tip in off a missed layup, and a one-handed dunk on a fast break.

“Against Charleston Southern (last Saturday), I just wasn’t knocking them down,” Holmes stated. “It was an off night for me. Tonight, the ball was moving well (offensively) and it allowed me to knock down some of those same shots that weren’t falling the other night. I’ve been trying to be a better mover off the ball instead of on the ball, as well as trying to create better opportunities for my teammates.”

Holmes’ 24 point performance is one of the best in his career at Upstate. He posted a career-high 26 points against The Citadel during his freshman season.

The Spartans’ defense forced Paine into committing 22 turnovers and converted them into 33 points. Upstate also held a 34-30 edge in bench scoring over the Lions, but lost the rebounding battle by a 44-29 margin.

Mike Cunningham and Ramel Thompkins also finished in double figures for the Spartans with 17 and 12 points, respectively. Babe Murphy led Paine with 15 points, while Phillip Garner scored 15 points off the bench.

Upstate (2-3) will now prepare for the start of an eight game road trip, which begins on Friday, November 24th at The Creek Classic, hosted by Campbell University. The Spartans will play Bowling Green to start the tournament on Friday.

“We’re facing three quality opponents – all of them will be very good,” Perry pointed out. “We’ll have to play really well. It’ll be competitive all weekend, so I just want to go up there, compete, and play as hard as we can play.”

The Spartans will also face Abilene Christian on Saturday and host Campbell on Sunday to finish out play in The Creek Classic.