By Justin Mathis
SPARTANBURG, S.C. – On Saturday afternoon inside the newly named Eddie and Ann Payne Arena, the USC Upstate Spartans and Kennesaw State Owls were both in search of another conference win before the end of the first trip through the Atlantic Sun schedule.
In the end, a shot from Anthony Wilson with under two seconds left allowed Kennesaw State to escape with an 81-80 victory over USC Upstate.
After a pair of free throws from Malik Moore put the Spartans ahead 80-79 with 16 seconds remaining in regulation, Kennesaw State had possession following a timeout called by Upstate and the Owls had one final play that they felt would work.
“We had three options on the play,” Kennesaw State head coach Al Skinner explained. “As it turned out, (Wilson) was the last option. What I’m really pleased about is that we showed a lot of composure… We didn’t have the first option, which is fine. We didn’t have the second option, which was fine – showed a lot of patience – (and then) got it to the third option. Anthony obviously came up with a great play. If nothing else, through some of the games we’ve lost, it kind of paid off for us in this situation. We’ve continued to play with a lot of composure coming down the stretch.”
Prior to the jumper from the left elbow of the key, the two clubs traded proverbial punches.
The Owls took their first lead of the game at 74-72 with 4:41 left on a tip-in by Wilson. A pair of free throws from Thompkins put Upstate ahead 75-74 two minutes later, only to see Tyler Hooker knock down a three to put KSU back in front moments later. Nearly a minute later, Jure Span drained a three to give Upstate a 78-77 lead before being called for goaltending on the defensive end, putting the Owls in front 79-78.
“Our kids guarded that last play well,” Upstate head coach Kyle Perry said. “That happens sometimes – you defend it perfect and they make a great play. That’s what they did and you’ve got to give (Kennesaw State) credit for that. We’ve got a small margin for error and sometimes, it’s real small. We’ve played better lately. We’re right and there and we’ve got an opportunity to get Lipscomb back (on Monday).”
Ramel Thompkins led the way for the Spartans with 21 points, followed by Deion Holmes with 19 and Malik Moore, who ended up mired in foul trouble for a good chunk of the second half, tallied 16 points.
Anthony Wilson scored 22 points, a career-high, for the Owls. Nick Masterson finished with 16 points and Tyler Hooker chipped in 11 points off the bench in the win.
Upstate knocked down 12 of 33 (36.4%) from the field in the second stanza after making 16 of their first 27 attempts in the first 20 minutes. Kennesaw State knocked down 23 of 28 free throws, including a perfect 17 for 17 in the first half, while shooting 28 of 60 (46.7%) for the game.