AIKEN, S.C. --- The USC Aiken men's basketball opened the game on a 14-0 and led wire-to-wire in an 83-66 win over visiting Tusculum University Friday night in the opening game of the South Atlantic Conference / Peach Belt Conference Challenge. The two-day event is being held at the USCA Convocation Center.
The Pioneers (0-1) fall in the season-opener in the TU debut for head coach J.T. Burton.
Ty'lik Evans led the Pacers (1-0) with 23 points shooting 8-of-16 from the floor and 6-of-11 from three-point territory. Faison Brock had 18 points, while teammates Doniel Dean and Xzavier Barmore had 16 and 10 points respectively.
Tusculum junior Caleb Hodnett scored a career-high 18 points off the bench going 7-of-12 from the field including 4-of-6 from beyond the arc. Trenton Gibson added scored 11 points and dished out a team-high four assists, while Dillon Smith finished with 10 markers and five rebounds. TU junior center Cam King led all players with a game-high 10 rebounds in the loss.
The Pacers forced 18 TU turnovers resulting into 22 points. USC Aiken also scored 19 points on its 14 offensive rebounds. USC Aiken also edged Tusculum 41-36 in overall rebounding.
The Pacers jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the opening 2:58 as USCA made six of its first seven shots including back-to-back treys to start the game. TU missed its first three shots while committing three turnovers before Tariq Jenkins broke the drought with an offensive rebound and lay-up.
Hodnett buried a three-pointer to pull the Pioneers to within nine (14-5) at the 15:47 mark of the first half
The Pacers led by 12 (17-5) before Hodnett connected on a basket to trim the deficit to 17-7 with 13:10 left in the half. A 5-0 run by the hosts extended the lead to 22-7 on an Evans triple with 11:15 to go in the period.
Tusculum cut the deficit back to 11 in part to back-to-back treys from Hodnett as USC Aiken led 24-13 at the midway point of the half. The Pacers scored five in a row and would maintain its distance taking a 43-26 lead into halftime.
Evans connected on his third 3-pointer of the night to give the Pacers their largest lead of the night at 46-26 with 18:15 remaining. But back came the Pioneers using a 13-4 run to cut the deficit back to 11 at 50-39, capped off by a Jenkins layup with 14:46 to go. Back-to-back buckets from Barmore and Dean extended the lead to 57-42, but Hall knocked down a long-range three as TU trailed by a dozen at 57-45 with 11:41 to go.
USC Aiken responded with an 8-0 run to push the lead back to 20. Tusculum made a couple of charges and scored six straight to trim the lead to 76-62 with 2:47 left following a Gibson three-point play. But that would be as close as the Black and Orange would get as the Pacers held on for the win.
USCA finished the game shooting 43.8 percent from the field (28-of-64) including 11-of-26 from three-point territory (42.3%). TU shot 43.6 percent (24-of-55) and went 10-of-21 from downtown (47.6%). The Pacers shot 16-of-24 at the free throw line while Tusculum shot 47.1 percent (8-of-17).
The Pioneers will face Clayton State on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. to close out the SAC / Peach Belt Challenge.