SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Basketball players and coaches are creatures of habit. Sometimes, though, a break in the routine can be just the boost a team needs.
USC Upstate went away from the norm with a short turnaround time, and it paid dividends Saturday afternoon. Three Spartans finished in double figures, as the home side splashed 12 three-pointers in an 80-63 victory at the Hodge Center. The victory was Upstate’s first in Big South play.
“In all honesty, I felt really good when we left Hampton (after Thursday’s 88-70 defeat),” said Upstate coach Dave Dickerson. “We told each other that we were gonna forget about this game, and from here on out, we were gonna start thinking about Longwood. We did something strange, where we stayed over the night after the game, instead of driving back and getting back at four or five o’clock in the morning.”
POSTGAME AUDIO: USC Upstate coach Dave Dickerson (press play below)
The energy boost was obvious, almost from the jump.
Upstate (6-17, 1-7 Big South) countered a slog of a first segment in which the teams each hit just one of their first seven shots, going on a 29-7 run over the next 12 minutes. Senior Malik Moore helped key the run for the Spartans, scoring all 16 of his points during the burst. Longwood (13-10, 3-5) tried to claw its way back into the contest over the final first-half segment, drawing within 17 at 36-19 at the interval.
The Spartan defense held the visiting Lancers to just 8-for-28 (28.6 percent) from the floor in the first half, with 12 of those misses coming from distance. That defensive effort resonated with their head coach.
“Our guys stuck in there. A team that hadn’t won a game in the new year, and they stuck in there and played winning basketball. They did it the right way, which is (by) defending,” said Dickerson. “We did it without practice. We talked about the 20/80 rule, which is (that) defense is 20 percent system and 80 percent effort. Everyone that played tonight, they gave great effort.”
Longwood coach Griff Aldrich offered another explanation for the significant halftime deficit and eventual result.
“We talked a lot about mental focus and really needing to compete, and I think part of competing is focusing on the details,” said Aldrich. “On the offensive end, in particular, we didn’t run our motion principles at all … You can’t make one pass, and then drive it to the basket. You’ve gotta move the ball. We didn’t do that, and I think that was really a symptom of our lack of attention to detail.”
POSTGAME AUDIO: Longwood coach Griff Aldrich (press play below)
Longwood chipped the lead to 14 just into the second half, and, after a Deion Holmes three, Moore drew his third foul, which sent him to the bench for a prolonged period. The moment that could have made Upstate just as easily vanish instead brought together the young club.
“It was great to see (senior guard) Deion (Holmes) step up,” said Dickerson. “We needed him to play well … I thought as a team, we showed great leadership and poise, because we’ve been down this road before, and we’ve lost the lead, and consequently, we’ve lost the game. Tonight, we just had a mindset, and that took us through the 40 minutes.”
The moment was also not lost on Aldrich.
“We went to a four-guard offense, and almost played that exclusively in the second half. We were trying to get up and down. We switched to a zone that gave them a little bit of difficulty,” said Aldrich. “But then, I think we had some self-inflicted wounds. We got it down to 14 or 16, and then started going for home runs. You can’t do that. Moore had a great game, as did Holmes, but I really thought a lot of our (concerns) were not doing what we do.”
Upstate seized the momentum from that point, eventually building its lead as high as 27. The Lancers reduced the margin to 15 with some made shots late in the second half, but the Spartans held the visitors at arm’s length in securing the victory.
Longwood shot 33.9 percent (20-for-59) on the day, connecting on just 4-of-27 tries from beyond the arc. Isaiah Walton and Gus Okafor paced the Lancers with 12 apiece, with Shabooty Phillips and JaShaun Smith adding 10 apiece. Okafor, who has seen his playing time increase with an injury to captain Damarion Geter, drew Aldrich’s attention during and after the contest.
“I think Gus is playing his way into the rotation,” said Aldrich. “Gus is a guy who’s just starting to play, and he’s still trying to get his sea legs, and rhythm.”
Holmes paced the Spartans with 20 points, making six of his 15 tries from the field. Moore added 16, with freshman Everette Hammond adding 14 key points off the bench.
“That is the best ball (Everette’s) played,” said Dickerson. “Everette has taken a lot of criticism from me, and some tough coaching, but he’s stayed with it.”
“He’s coming along. He should have been doing it all season,” said Holmes, with a laugh. “Hopefully, he can carry it on to the next game. He kept attacking, and what he should do (in the) next game.”
Both teams resume play Wednesday night. Longwood returns home to face Hampton in a 7:00 (Eastern) start from Willett Hall. Upstate makes the short trip to UNC Asheville’s Kimmel Arena. That game is also slated to start at 7:00.
USC UPSTATE 80, LONGWOOD 63
LONGWOOD (13-10, 3-5 BIG SOUTH): Phillips 4-9 0-0 10, Wilson 3-8 0-1 6, Franklin 0-2 0-0 0, Cintron 2-5 4-5 8, Smith 4-7 2-3 10, Walton 2-11 8-8 12, Chapman 0-0 0-0 0, Adgei 0-0 0-0 0, Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Flood 1-5 2-2 5, Lipp 0-0 0-0 0, Okafor 4-12 3-4 12. Totals 20-59 19-23 63.
USC UPSTATE (6-17, 1-7 BIG SOUTH): Moore 5-13 2-2 16, Span 0-2 0-0 0, Holmes 6-15 5-5 20, Aldrich 1-3 0-0 0, Zink 3-6 3-4 9, White 2-5 0-1 6, Hammond 6-10 1-1 14, Martin 2-3 1-1 5, Ryan 1-1 0-0 0, Furlough 1-1 0-0 3, Welch 1-2 0-0 3, Tate 0-0 0-0 0, Booker 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-61 12-14 80.
Halftime — Upstate 36-19. 3-Point Goals—Longwood 4-27 (Phillips 2-5, Wilson 0-5, Cintron 0-1, Smith 0-1, Walton 0-4, Flood 1-5, Okafor 1-6), Upstate 12-28 (Moore 4-8, Span 0-2, Holmes 3-7, Aldrich 0-2, White 2-5, Hammond 1-1, Furlough 1-1, Welch 1-2). Fouled Out — Cintron (LU). Rebounds — Longwood 42 (Walton 6), Upstate 34 (Moore 6). Assists — Upstate 19 (White 5), Longwood 6 (Phillips 2). Total Fouls — Upstate 20, Longwood 14. Technical — NA. A — 564.
Points in the Paint —Longwood 28, Upstate 23. Points off Turnovers —Upstate 20, Longwood 10. Second-Chance Points — Longwood 17, Upstate 11. Fast Break Points — Longwood 5, Upstate 2. Bench Points — Upstate 33, Longwood 29.
CURRENT BIG SOUTH STANDINGS