AIKEN, SC – Looking down and out with just over three minutes remaining, the North Georgia men's basketball put together a 13-0 run, but came up short when the final buzzer sounded, falling 76-71 at USC Aiken Monday evening in Peach Belt Conference action.
The Saints drop their fourth straight game since opening Peach Belt Conference action, falling to 3-10 overall and 0-4 in league play. The Pacers end their four-game slide, getting back on track and improving to 10-6 overall and 4-6 in league action.
USC Aiken opened the game on a 6-2 run before extending the lead to 13-6 on a Byron Faison free throw with 12:20 remaining in the first half. North Georgia answered over the next five minutes, clamping down on defense and going on an 8-0 run, capped by a pair of free throws from Carl Taylor to give the Saints their first lead of the game at 14-13 with 9:45 remaining.
The Pacers regained the lead moments later when Alvin Brown was perfect on a pair of free throws, but the Saints brought the crowd to silence on the ensuing possession as Carl Taylor threw one up for Elijah Smith in transition and he brought down the house, slamming it home and drawing the foul to make it a 16-15 game with 7:03 remaining in the half.
The lead changed hands once again as the Pacers took a four-point lead with 4:39 remaining on a three-point play the old fashioned way by Brown, giving USC Aiken a 23-19 advantage.
The Saints would not go away however, as Smith pulled down an offensive board and went back strong for his second dunk of the game to cut the lead to a single point, as Clarence Tillman followed and gave North Georgia the lead with a fast break jumper at the 1:36 mark, changing the lead for the seventh time in the contest.
Carl Taylor followed two possessions later and drilled his second three-pointer of the half, capping a 9-1 run by the Saints and sending North Georgia racing for the locker room at intermission with a four-point lead at 28-24.
The final stanza would get even closer as both teams went under the 10-minute mark with five more lead changes and three deadlocks in the second half.
Midway through the second half, the Saints were gaining some momentum as Marquez Jackson added to the surge, finding Taylor on the wing who spotted up and knocked down a long ball, giving North Georgia a four-point lead at 46-42.
The lead would be short lived however, as the Pacers responded with a 12-0 run that was finished off by a three-pointer by Jesse Seilern at the 8:13 mark, giving USC Aiken a 54-46 lead and bringing the crowd back to life as head coach Chris Faulkner called for a timeout.
USCA extended their lead to a game-high 16 points with 3:37 remaining before the Saints got back in rhythm and Taylor's six straight points sparked a comeback, pulling the Saints to within 11 points at 71-60 with 1:53 left.
North Georgia then applied full court pressure and forced back-to-back turnovers, using buckets from Jon Nolton and Tillman to pull to within seven points at 71-64 with 1:26 showing on the clock.
The Saints never let up, forcing five-second calls on two straight Pacer possessions, setting up Robby Goldsmith for a three-pointer and wide open layup as part of a 13-0 run, pulling North Georgia to within a bucket at 71-69 with 57 seconds remaining.
North Georgia was forced to foul inside a minute to play and the Pacers never blinked, sinking four free throws and pulling away for the 76-71 victory.
Taylor and Smith led the Saints with 20 and 17 points respectively, while Tillman finished with eight, and Goldsmith had five points. The Saints were just 16-for-30 from the free throw line, good for 53-percent from the charity stripe.
The Saints return to action on Wednesday evening, traveling to Americus, Ga., to take on Georgia Southwestern in Peach Belt Conference action. North Georgia's second of three straight road games tips off in the Storm Dome at 7:30 p.m. against the Hurricanes.