January 8, 2011

Hatters Edge Spartans, 74-71, at the Hodge Center

SPARTANBURG, S.C.Torrey Craig (Rock Hill, S.C./Great Falls HS) scored a game-high 24 points, however, it wasn't enough to lead USC Upstate past hot-shooting Stetson, as the Hatters sizzled the nets at a 60% clip (30-of-50) to escape with a 74-71 victory in Atlantic Sun basketball action Saturday afternoon at the Hodge Center.

With the win, the Hatters improve to 5-10 overall and 3-2 in the A-Sun, while the Spartans fall to 2-13 and 1-4 in league play.

With the temperatures hovering near freezing just outside the Hodge Center, the Spartans and Hatters provided plenty of fire inside, as both teams shot the ball well the entire afternoon. The Spartans hit an Atlantic Sun season-best 13 trifectas in the contest, besting the previous standard of 12 set on three occasions by Belmont. In total, the Spartans connected on a blistering 46.4% (13-of-28) from long-range, while shooting 53.1% (26-of-49) for the game.

"We didn't get stops when we needed to today," said head coach Eddie Payne.  "There was a short spell in the second half when we took Mezie (Uzochukwu) out and we went to a zone.  We got him back in the game and we were okay after that point.  We played better in the second half, but I felt that in the first half we didn't play very well defensively."

Both the field goal and three-point percentages were season standards for Upstate, eclipsing the previous field goal and three-point percentages of 46.9% and 43.5% set against ETSU and Virginia, respectively.

Craig's 24-point effort marked the second time in a week that the freshman scored more than 20 points in a game. Craig approached his career-high of 25 points, which he set last Monday night in a 78-71 loss at Kennesaw State. Craig connected on 9-of-15 field goal attempts, including matching his career-high of five triples previously established in a 71-50 loss to Coastal Carolina back on Nov. 19 at the Charleston Classic.

The game was a typical A-Sun war, as the largest lead for either club was just eight points, which was held briefly held in each half by the Hatters, with the last being 63-55, with 7:33 remaining. 

It appeared the Spartans might do what they haven't been able to do all season, which is rebound from a halftime deficit for a win, as the Hatters held a 38-33 halftime edge

A 6-0 run by the Hatters, which culminated in a lay-up by Steve Forbes with 2:19 to go, gave Stetson a 69-63 advantage with 2:19 to play.

From there, the Spartans caught fire, as Craig connected on a short jumper cut the deficit four, and then Upstate's pressure defense caused the Hatters to turn the ball over as a result of a five-second violation. On the ensuing possession for the Spartans, Josh Chavis (Greensboro, N.C./Dudley HS) dialed up a long-range bomb to cut Stetson's lead to a single point, 69-68, with 1:17 to go.

However, Stetson's Corey Walden converted a lay-up, and after a Spartan turnover and foul, the Hatters capitalized on a couple of charity shots, giving the Hatters a 72-68 lead with 54 seconds left.

The Spartans would make things interesting once again, as Craig got the ball in left corner and banked in his fifth three of the day to cut the deficit to a point, at 72-71, with 28 seconds remaining.

After two Joel Narburgs foul shots extended the Hatters' lead to three (74-71) with 25 seconds left.  Chavis found himself wide open in the left corner but his trey rimmed out with 15 seconds to play.  Stetson knocked the ball out of bounds giving the Spartans one final chance.

"We have played well against some high major teams, such as Virginia Tech, this season," said Chavis.  "However we haven't been able to put a complete game together and we have to do that if we want to win conference games.  It has been frustrating for us, but we have to continue to battle and improve each and every game."

Chavis' desperation triple attempt to tie the game at the buzzer and send the game to an extra session clanged against the back iron and Stetson came away with the narrow three-point win.

The only other Spartan in double figures was Chavis, who finished the afternoon with 18 points on 6-of-13 from three-point range his. Chavis' six threes were both individual and team season highs. Prior to the Stetson contest, Craig's five three-pointers against Coastal Carolina accounted for the previous team best.

Stetson placed three players in double figures, led by Ridge Graham's 19 points, while Walden and Narburgs contributed 18 and 10 points, respectively.

Upstate returns to the hardwood on Monday night, hosting Florida Gulf Coast at the Hodge Center in a 7:30 p.m. contest and is part of a Spartan twinbill as the women's team hosts Florida Gulf Coast at 5:00 p.m.