January 21, 2012

Spartans Storm Back, Knock off Belmont, 79-78

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SPARTANBURG, S.C. – There is an old adage that says there is a first time for everything and the USC Upstate men's basketball team (11-9, 5-3 Atlantic Sun) proved that Saturday afternoon with a come from behind victory over Belmont (13-7, 6-2) inside the Hodge Center.  The Spartans picked up their first ever win over the Bruins after erasing a 16-point halftime deficit.

Over the span of the 40 minute contest, the Spartans led for just 22 seconds.  Upstate held a one-point advantage for 20 seconds in the first half and when it counted, led for the final two seconds of the contest.

"Today's victory is a significant win for our program," said head coach Eddie Payne.  "Our players proved something to themselves today; I don't know that we have a true understanding of how good we can be as well as how good we have to play.  There were two dramatically different halves today as our kids really responded to a forceful lecture at halftime.  It was our first win over Belmont, they are the signature program of our conference and they have been for a long time, and hopefully this can be something big for us."

Trailing by 16 (43-27) at intermission, the Spartans came out on fire, connecting on their first three attempts of the second half to trim the deficit to just 10 (43-33) with 18:33 remaining.  Jodd Maxey (Statham, Ga.) scored four of his career-high 19 points during the 6-0 Upstate spurt.

After a fast-break lay-up by Blake Jenkins, Torrey Craig (Great Falls, S.C.) connected on a three-pointer as the Spartans cut the Bruin lead to single-digits, nine points (45-36), with 17:22 showing on the clock.

After Belmont connected on back-to-back baskets to take a 49-36 lead with 16:36 to play, Upstate used a 16-4 run over a span of 4:07 to close the gap to just one point (53-52) with 12:18 remaining in the contest.  Craig started the run with a triple followed by back-to-back baskets by Adrian Rodgers (Alpharetta, Ga.). 

Ty Greene (Knoxville, Tenn.) trimmed the deficit to just four points (49-45) when he sank a jumper in the paint with 13:55 to go.  Ricardo Glenn (Augusta, Ga.) and Maxey combined to score the next seven points for the Spartans.  All four Belmont points during the Spartan surge came at the charity stripe (Mick Hedgepeth, 2; Kerron Johnson, 2).

After Maxey's three-point play, Belmont pushed the lead back to four points when Ian Clark sank triple from the wing to give the Bruins a 56-52 advantage with 12:08 to play.

The Bruins began to regain momentum and took an eight point advantage (61-53) on a free throw by Kerron Johnson with 9:34 remaining.

Upstate was able to trim the lead to five, but a three-pointer from the right wing by Reece Chamberlain gave Belmont a 66-58 advantage with just over eight minutes to play.

With Belmont in front by six (70-64) after a Kerron Johnson lay-up and the contest heading to its final five minutes, the Spartans dug deep for one run at the victory.

Upstate used a 6-1 run to trim the deficit to one (71-70) thanks to baskets by Glenn, Babatunde Olumuyiwa (Athens, Ga.) and Mario Blessing (Kusterdingen, Germany).  After Ian Clark and Craig traded baskets, JJ Mann sank a three-pointer to push Belmont's lead to four, 76-72, with 2:45 to play.

Maxey scored on a fast-break dunk while Craig hit a three-pointer to again cut the deficit to just one (78-77) with 1:33 to play.

Belmont's Ian Clark missed a three-pointer with 1:08 to play but Mick Hedgepeth was there to snag the loose ball.  Clark missed another triple, but this time Upstate snagged the rebound as Maxey came away with the basketball with 31 seconds to play. 

Upstate took a timeout with 14 seconds remaining to draw up the potential game winning play.  Rodgers drove toward the basket and put up a running jumper with three seconds remaining; Rodgers was unsuccessful on his attempt, but Craig was there to grab the loose ball and connected on a jumper with two seconds remaining.  Craig's final basket of the half gave him 17 in the final stanza and 22 for the contest.

Belmont heaved the ball down court, but Glenn was there snag the ball out of the air to secure the one-point victory for the Spartans.

"There is no denying this is a signature win for us," Payne added.  We are trying to get over the hump and we haven't beaten one of the top teams in our league such as ETSU and Mercer.  Jacksonville beat us (Monday Night), so to beat a team like Belmont and coming from 16 down to do it is a big accomplishment for us.  We have to come ready to play Monday in order to avoid a letdown against Lipscomb."

Aside from Craig's 22-point performance and Maxey's career-best 19 points, Greene pitched in 12 points, while Glenn finished a perfect 4-for-4 from the field en route to 10 points.

Belmont was led by Kerron Johnson (18 points, eight assists) and Mick Hedgepeth (16 points, seven rebounds).

Upstate finished the contest 28-of-52 from the field (53.8%) including a 20-for-33 mark (60.3%) in the final half.  Belmont finished the game 27-of-56 (48.2%) with its better mark coming in the first half (15-27; 55.6%).

In the first half, Belmont opened the contest on a 15-6 run over the first 7:57 of action and the Spartans were unable to get any closer than six in the first half.  The Bruins led by double-digits for all but 11 seconds during the final 8:08 of the period.  They took their largest lead of the contest, 16 (27-11) with 5:13 left; it was the same margin the Bruins led by at the break (43-27).

The Spartans host Lipscomb Monday night at 7 p.m. in the middle contest of the three-game homestand.