By Justin Mathis
SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Saturday afternoon marked the final time that four superb seniors – Jure Span, Pat Welch, Malik Moore, and Deion Holmes – played a collegiate basketball game at the G.B Hodge Center for the USC Upstate Spartans.
Unfortunately, there wouldn’t be a storybook ending on Senior Day for the Spartans, as relentless full court pressure and a strong post attack played major roles for the Hampton Pirates, who claimed a 92-71 victory to wrap up regular season play in the Big South.
A no-look behind the back pass from Span to Nevin Zink for a two-handed jam turned into an old-fashioned three-point play and gave Upstate a 10-6 lead after the first stoppage of the contest. Not long after that, Hampton took charge with an 18-8 run to build a double-digit advantage.
“We had to defend very well,” Hampton head coach Edward Joyner said. “We were shooting 50 percent, but (Upstate) was shooting 50 percent also. We made a couple of more buckets than they did, especially off of turnovers. We felt like if we could continue to turn them over and did a better job at half-court defense, then we could get some space and it happened.” Hampton outscored Upstate 44-38 in the paint and had 19 points off Upstate turnovers (the Spartans had eight points).
In the second half, Upstate continued to battle and put up points, but struggled to string together stops consistently on the defensive end of the floor. A 19-5 run by the Pirates in the second stanza essentially put the game out of reach for the home-standing Spartans.
“They are a really talented offensive team,” Upstate head coach Dave Dickerson remarked. “We just couldn’t get over the hump. We just couldn’t get enough stops in a row to get the game within reach. Coach Joyner is doing a hell of a job with (Hampton). I wanted to win this game for the seniors to go out on a good note. Jure, Deion, Pat, and Malik have invested a lot into this program and university. They deserve better and I wish I could have given them better.”
“I thought we came out (and played) hard,” Holmes stated. “Apparently, we have to come out (& play) harder and play better defense. We have to take what we learned from this game and take it to the next. The defensive end is where we have to get better. That’s what we’re going to keep doing until our next game on Tuesday.”
Hampton made 37 of their 68 shots from the floor (54.4%), while Upstate was 28 for 62 (45.2%). The Pirates also won the turnover battle, forcing 14 Upstate turnovers to their own nine. The Pirates had four that finished in double figures, led Jermaine Marrow with 30 points. Akim Mitchell tallied 26 points, while Trevond Barnes and Kalin Fisher scored 15 and 12, respectively.
Upstate was led by Holmes, who scored a team-high 23 points, along with Dalvin White, who finished with 10. Malik Moore returned after missing the past four games with a hand injury, scoring eight minutes in 22 minutes of game action.
“Even though we’ve been coming up short in several games, I feel like we’re still learning for next year,” White explained. “Coach tells us every day to come in with a mindset that you still have another game to play. In the Big South, you have to come play every night because there’s some great guards in this league.”
USC Upstate will open the Big South tournament on Tuesday, March 5th on the road at the Buc Dome against sixth-seeded Charleston Southern. The Buccaneers swept the regular season series against the Spartans. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 PM.
Hampton, the eighth seed, will host a first round game on Tuesday, when they collide with ninth-seeded Longwood. The Pirates swept the regular season series against the Lancers. Tipoff for that contest is also scheduled for 7 PM.
PHOTO: Deion Holmes/goupstate.com