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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. – March Madness got an early start for the USC Upstate men's basketball team Friday evening, as the Spartans put together one of their most dominate performances of the year to cap the regular season with an 88-56 victory over ETSU at the MSHA Athletic Center on CSS and ESPN3.
The Spartans (15-16, 9-9 A-Sun) picked up a win over ETSU on the road for the first in program history and locked up the No. 5 seed in the upcoming 2013 General Shale Atlantic Sun Conference Basketball Championship set to commence next week on the campus of Mercer University.
With the No. 5 seed, Upstate will take on No. 4 seed Jacksonville Thursday at 8:30 p.m. at Hawkins Arena in the opening round of the tournament. The two teams split the season series with both clubs picking up wins on their home floor.
Needing to win over ETSU to capture that No. 5 seed, Upstate came roaring out of the gates and jumped all over the Buccaneers in the opening minutes, courtesy of Torrey Craig getting dialed in from long range. The junior knocked down three of his first four three-point attempts and before the first media timeout of the contest Upstate held a double-digit lead at 14-4.
"We have been struggling on a variety of fronts and tonight we played really good basketball," said USC Upstate Head Coach Eddie Payne. "We played good possession basketball, we never got in a hurry and we worked the ball well and I thought that paid off for us."
ETSU attempted to get the nearly sold out crowd of over 4,000 into the game when they rallied and cut the Upstate lead to six with 9:04 left in the first half, but the Spartans would have none of it, using three straight layups from Ricardo Glenn to push the lead right back to double digit. Upstate eventually led by 14 at intermission when Jodd Maxey pulled down an offensive rebound and slammed it home as time expired to make it 39-25 at the break.
"We took away their perimeter shooting and guarded the arc real well," Payne said. "We did a number of things well tonight, so this is good medicine for us since we have been struggling lately."
The Spartans refused to let up in the second half, dominating every phase of the game and going on a 22-4 run, capped by an offensive rebound and put back from Babatunde Olumuyiwa to give Upstate a 32-point advantage at 61-29.
The offensive onslaught never let up as Ty Greene hit a driving layup with 8:42 left to give the Spartans a 41-point lead, the largest advantage of the night. Upstate held a 36-22 edge in points in the paint and pulled down 13 offensive rebounds, which led to 18 second chance points.
Craig had a stellar night as he made one final case for back-to-back A-Sun Player of the Year honors, scoring 26 points on 7-for-14 shooting, including 6-for-13 from long range. He also tallied nine rebounds, five assists and finished 6-for-6 from the charity stripe.
Greene added 17 points on 6-for-10 shooting from the field, while Adrian Rodgers tallied a dozen points and Glenn rounded out the players in double figures with 10. Olumuyiwa started for the third time this year and made the most of it, scoring eight points and pulling down eight rebounds, while adding a pair of blocked shots.
The Spartans enter postseason play for the second consecutive season since being eligible for a Division I championship and look to earn the program's first A-Sun Tournament victory next week in Macon, Ga.