SPARTANBURG, S.C. – As fans walked through the doors of the Hodge Center Saturday afternoon, they were greeted with a table full of white t-shirts. The shirts, reading “OUR PAYNE OUR GAIN”, were half-gift and half-homage to legendary Spartans coach Eddie Payne, who retired before the season began.
The real homage came during a halftime ceremony honoring Payne and wife Ann, featuring a number of Payne’s former players and unveiling the arena’s new name: Eddie and Ann Payne Arena.
There was also the matter of the on-court action to attend to, a 100-80 victory by North Florida, in which Ospreys forward Noah Horchler paced a blistering effort by the visitors, scoring 31 points and grabbing 12 boards before an announced crowd of 749 in the newly-renamed gym.
“I definitely wanted a better performance,” said Upstate coach Kyle Perry after the game. “North Florida shot it well today, and we didn’t shoot well for a stretch. I thought we had a good game plan coming in. I definitely wanted a better performance for Eddie, but I’m happy for Eddie, and I appreciate what they did for him today.” Perry was an assistant under Payne for eight seasons, before taking the reins of the program following Payne’s retirement in October.
North Florida (9-13, 3-2 Atlantic Sun) raced to an early lead behind a hot shooting effort. The visitors opened a ten-point advantage on a Horchler layup just over five minutes into the contest. That lead stayed in double figures for the next six minutes, before Mike Cunningham dropped three free throws following a foul on a high close-out. USC Upstate (6-16, 1-4) used its first-half stoppage at the 2:15 mark, then went on a 7-0 burst to close North Florida’s interval lead to just four at 39-35. Both teams connected on 14 first-half tries, with Upstate attempting one more shot from the field than UNF.
A 9-2 Ospreys run began the second half, pushing the visitors’ lead back to 11. After a trade of baskets, Upstate’s Ramel Thompkins canned a jumper and sliced the margin to nine at 50-41 with 16:25 to play. This would, however, be the final time the difference would be in single digits. North Florida then ripped off a 14-1 burst, extending the Osprey advantage to 64-42. A stretch then ensued in which Upstate found its mark from the floor, but to little avail. Every basket that fell for the Spartans seemed to be countered by a make on the Osprey side of the floor.
“We started making some shots, and we just couldn’t stop them,” said Perry. “That’s the way it goes sometimes.” The Spartans drew within 15 just past the eight-minute mark, but were unable to shrink the deficit any further.
Horchler’s 31 points were a career-high, and represent the 11th-highest single-game total in Osprey history. The sophomore forward was one of five UNF players to finish in double digits, as his club shot 62.1 percent (18-for-29) in its scorching second stanza. Guard Garrett Sams and forward Trip Day added 19 apiece, while guard JT Escobar contributed 15. Guard Ivan Gandia-Rosa had a somewhat unconventional double-double, scoring 13 points and adding 13 of his team’s 21 assists on its 32 made baskets.
Five Spartans also finished with 10 points or greater, led by guard Deion Holmes’ 16. Mike Cunningham finished hot on Holmes’ heels with 15, while Malik Moore notched a double-double with 13 points and 11 boards. Forward Carson Smith connected on all six field-goal tries, finishing with 12. Thompkins recorded 10.
Freshman center Isaiah Anderson scored seven points and grabbed seven rebounds in 15 minutes off the bench for the Spartans. “Isaiah played alright tonight. He had a couple of mistakes mentally, but energy-wise, he did play better,” said Perry. “I felt like, with the zone they were playing, he was a better passer, and maybe we could get him in there and get it moving.” UNF employed a swarming perimeter zone defense much of the game, leaving the Spartans to drive the lane in an attempt to score. Upstate finished just 6-for-27 from distance, but outscored UNF, 46-30, in the paint.
Both teams return to A-Sun play Wednesday evening. Upstate travels to Nashville, Tenn. to take on Lipscomb in a 7:30 (Eastern) start. North Florida welcomes cross-state rival FGCU to UNF Arena. That game is slated to begin at 7:00 (Eastern).
NORTH FLORIDA 100, USC UPSTATE 80
NORTH FLORIDA (9-13, 3-2 ASUN): Horchler 10-16 9-10 31, Escobar 4-8 3-4 15, Sams 5-10 5-5 19, Gandia-Rosa 4-10 4-4 13, Day 8-11 1-2 19, Lambright 1-3 0-0 3, Blount 0-2 0-0 0, Burkhardt 0-1 0-0 0, Coffey II 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 32-61 22-25 100.
UPSTATE (6-16, 1-4): Cunningham 4-11 4-5 15, Span 1-7 0-1 3, Thompkins 4-8 1-1 10, 5 Diggs 1-3 0-0 2, Holmes 7-19 2-2 16, Moore 6-10 0-0 13, Anderson 3-5 1-2 7, Smith 6-6 0-0 12, Welch 0-3 0-0 0, Booker 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 26-62 11-16 72.
Halftime — North Florida 39-35. 3-Point Goals—North Florida 14-28 (Horchler 2-2, Escobar 4-6, Sams 4-6, Gandia-Rosa 1-6, Day 2-4, Lambright 1-2, Blount 0-1, Burkhardt 0-1), Upstate 6-27 (Cunningham 3-7, Span 1-6, Thompkins 1-4, Holmes 0-4, Moore 1-3, Welch 0-3). Fouled Out — Thompkins (UPST). Rebounds — North Florida 39 (Horchler 12), Upstate 37 (Moore 11)). Assists — North Florida 21 (Gandia-Rosa 13), Upstate 14 (Moore 6). Total Fouls — Upstate 19, North Florida 12. Technical — Team (UPST). A — 749.
Points in the Paint — Upstate 46, North Florida 30. Points off Turnovers — North Florida 26, Upstate 11. Second-Chance Points — Upstate 21, North Florida 15. Fast Break Points — Upstate 4, North Florida 0. Bench Points — Upstate 34, North Florida 3.