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HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. – The USC Upstate men's basketball team rallied from a late deficit Saturday evening to win its fourth straight Atlantic Sun Conference opener, knocking off Northern Kentucky 60-54 at The Bank of Kentucky Center.
The Spartans (7-7, 1-0 A-Sun) win their third straight game and fourth consecutive conference opener in the first-ever meeting with Northern Kentucky, while the Norse (3-8, 1-2 A-Sun) drop their first-ever NCAA Division I home contest.
"It's always good to win on the road," Upstate Head Coach Eddie Payne said. "Regardless of how you play, when you win on the road that's a good thing. Northern Kentucky has been very difficult for people to play against and this is a historic night for their program and we told our players we didn't want to be in the history books."
The Spartans did however enter the history books, but did so for another reason, handing the Norse their first loss in a home opener in the last 30 years. The last time the Norse dropped a home-opener came in a four-point loss to Hanover in 1981.
With Upstate leading by as much as 13 in the second half, Northern Kentucky chipped away at the lead and eventually pulled ahead on a three-pointer by Eshaunte Jones with 5:55 to play to make it 50-47.
Trailing for the first time since the opening minutes of the game, Fred Miller took over on the offensive end, drilling a jumper in the baseline to cut the lead to one, and burying a three-pointer on the following possession to knot the score at 52-52.
"Fred Miller made some big plays while we were behind late," Payne said. "They were all crucial possessions and he came up big when it counted."
Miller was not done however, driving in the lane and rattling home a runner with 3:23 left to make it 54-52 and put the Spartans in front for good. Ricardo Glenn made it a four-point game with 2:18 left when he grabbed an offensive board and muscled up a layup, and the Spartans made four free throws in the final 30 seconds to seal the road victory.
Entering the game at 61.4 percent from the free throw line as a team, Upstate put perfection on display as they connected on all 19 attempts, outscoring NKU by 14 points at the charity stripe.
"When you make free throws you can win close games," Payne said. "Tonight we did that and this will be a big confidence boost for our team."
Miller's hot streak put him in double figures with 11 points to lead the Spartans, while Glenn notched his fourth double-double in the last five games with his 10 points and 10 rebounds.
"We are really proud of Ricardo," Payne said. "He is as reliable as they come and has established himself as a premier post player in this league."
Playing in their first-ever NCAA Division I home contest, the Norse came out just as their home crowd expected, knocking down back-to-back three-pointers and taking a 6-0 lead in the early going.
Northern Kentucky led by as many as seven points in the opening minutes and took a 15-10 lead with 12:04 left in the first half before Upstate flipped a switch and came alive on the offensive end.
Greene got the party started with a four-point play, drilling a three-pointer from the wing, drawing a foul and connecting on the ensuing free throw to pull the Spartans to within a point. Maxey followed and handed Upstate its first lead of the day with a fast break dunk off a steal on the next possession, making it 16-15 with 11:14 remaining.
The Spartans continued to click on all cylinders, putting together a 13-0 run and scoring 19 of the next 22 points to surge out to a double-digit lead at 29-18.
Upstate led by as many as 12 in the opening period before Northern Kentucky scored the final three points of the half to cut the lead to nine at 33-24 heading to intermission. The Spartan advantage swelled to 13 points in the opening minutes of the second half before the Norse started a comeback and eventually took a brief lead.
The Spartans will now make their way to Nashville, Tenn., to take on Lipscomb Monday evening in another Atlantic Sun Conference battle. Tip-off against the Bison inside Allen Arena is slated for 6 p.m. EST.