DAHLONEGA, Ga. – The University of North Georgia men's basketball team fought hard and kept things close for the entire game; but in the end, the University of South Carolina Aiken Pacers were able to escape Memorial Hall Gymnasium with an 85-79 Peach Belt Conference cross division win.
The Saints (10-5, 5-3 PBC) were able to match the Pacers (10-5, 6-2 PBC) in nearly every aspect of the game. Both teams shot just north of 45% from the field and were around 72% from the free throw line, but the difference came down to USC Aiken's 10 three-pointers off a 47.6% effort compared to the Saints' 28.6% effort with six made treys. North Georgia did out-score USC Aiken 40-24 in the paint and 13-11 off turnovers.
Scott Windom came off the bench to lead the way for North Georgia with 22 points, a game high. Windom went 8-12 from the field and was clutch from the charity stripe, going 6-8, while also bringing down seven rebounds.
Freshman Corey Green continued to make strides Monday night as he was the Saints' second-leading scorer with 14 off a 5-6 effort. Just behind him, Lamar Richardson had two three-pointers while scoring 12 points and JC Ward finished his 20 minutes of work with 10 points.
USC Aiken was led by starting guard Ronal Zimmerman's 21 points. Zimmerman, who entered the game ranked third in the nation with 3.77 three-point field goals per game, connected on six of his nine looks from beyond the arc with five coming in the first half.
Fellow guard DeVontae Wright came off the bench to score 15 for USC Aiken while starting forward Paul Larson ended his night with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
North Georgia opened things up by claiming a 6-1 lead in the first two minutes of play, but the Pacers quickly fought back and took a 9-6 lead off Zimmerman's second trey of the game at the 15:54 mark.
The two battled hard over the next few minutes, trading the lead back and forth before Shane Porchea gave USC Aiken the lead back for good with a three-pointer from the right side of the arc with 12:24 remaining.
The Pacers would never give up the lead from there and took a 44-39 advantage into the locker room.
Out of the intermission, the Saints worked quickly to cut the lead back down to two (44-42) as Green scored a three-pointer in the first 22 seconds of the second stanza. From there, a race seemed to be established as the two squads pushed the tempo of the game as fast as they could, streaking back and forth up the court.
While USC Aiken was able to establish some breathing room a couple times during the second half, the Saints never let it last as they cut into the lead with several key steals and big shots.
Ishmael Hollis pulled the Saints to within four points (76-72) when he scored a layup with 1:28 remaining, and it looked as if North Georgia would be able to come back for the win, but the Pacers went 6-7 from the free throw line in the closing minutes of the game to record the win.
The Saints will remain at home for their next two games against PBC West foes Georgia Southwestern University and Columbus State University. The Hurricanes of GSW will be the first to travel to Dahlonega with a Thursday, Jan. 24 game inside Memorial Hall. Tipoff of "Student-Athlete Appreciation Night" is slated for 7:30 p.m.
As always, all North Georgia's home basketball games can be followed live via live stats and a free live webcast featuring Craig Corbin and Mike Davenport located on the schedule pages on www.SaintsSports.com. Also, Glory 1330 WGTJ Radio will continue to broadcast live during games with Mike Wofford and Drew Harris on the call. They can also be followed at www.glory1330.com or through the Tune in Radio app.