Upstate freshman Justin Bailey led the Spartans with 16 points in his club's comeback victory Wednesday. (Photo: USC Upstate Athletics)
SPARTANBURG, S.C. – There’s likely never been a list of the worst words in sports, but were one to exist, one word would prominently appear.
After 39 minutes and 59.7 seconds, Wednesday’s game between Presbyterian and USC Upstate came down to one play. The Blue Hose didn’t even have time to catch and shoot.
Presbyterian got the inbounds play it designed and the look it sought. Everything seemed set for a miraculous finish. The ball had other plans, though.
Trevon Reddish-Rhone’s try at the tin did everything but fall, painfully fading away off the rim and giving USC Upstate a 61-60 victory before a near-sellout crowd at the Hodge Center.
“We set a back screen. We had kind of a false movement into a back screen,” Presbyterian coach Quinton Ferrell said after the game. “We had to tip and grab it, so we just tried to get it at the rim. (Forward) Kobe (Stewart) made a heck of a pass. Trevon got his hand on it. It just rimmed out.”
USC Upstate coach Dave Dickerson, understandably, had a bit of a different look at the play.
“We had seen a back-door play that they ran maybe four or five games ago,” Dickerson said. “We knew that the only thing they could do was tip it in. They couldn’t catch it with the time left on the clock. We tried to put our tallest player on the ball, but he wasn’t effective.
“It’s one of those things that it’s kind of poetic justice that it didn’t go in, because they had a good look. Our guys were very locked in. Our defense on that last play was good enough to win, but our defense in the last 10 minutes was awesome. I thought the last 10 minutes were picture-perfect basketball.”
The last 10 minutes to which Dickerson referred seemed to be among the most inspired stretches his Spartans have submitted all season. Marquis Barnett dropped a triple at the 10:03 mark which expanded the Blue Hose advantage to 13 – the largest it had been all night. From there, the Spartans battled.
Nick Alves connected on a jumper with 7:13 to play that sliced the Presbyterian lead inside double digits for the first time in nearly five minutes. Alves hit a free throw on the same play to reduce his side’s deficit to seven. Then, freshman Justin Bailey took over for the Spartans.
Bailey hit a runner that cut the lead to three. After Presbyterian went back up five following a Marquis Barnett bucket, Bailey converted two free throws that again reduced the lead to three. Bailey’s patience and presence in those key situations drew praise from Dickerson.
“(Bailey) had an unbelievable game,” Dickerson said. “He’s wired to score. He made some big buckets and some big free throws for us. When you add that to (guard) Trae Broadnax – what he did in the second half versus what he did in the first half was unbelievable. Those two guys really played really good basketball in the second half.”
Bailey and Broadnax took just eight shots – hitting four – in the stanza, but their presence was felt. Bailey offered 10 of the Spartans’ 30 second-half points, connecting on 5-of-7 from the line in the period. Broadnax grabbed three boards and dished an assist in the period.
Upstate’s depth also played a significant role. With forwards Khydarius Smith and Seny N’Diaye in foul trouble, Dickerson got creative with his lineups, finding a combination that produced 21 of the Spartans’ 28 total bench points after the half.
“We had some guys playing unusual positions and unusual minutes. (Guard) Jordan Surratt was playing the five for us,” Dickerson said. “We didn’t get a lot of production from our five-men, so we went small for about four or five minutes in the second half. That really worked for us.
“(Forward) Mysta Goodloe went down early in the first half. He’s one of our most important players. He’s probably out for a little bit now. To see our guys come back from his injury – we were flat after that injury. That shot at the end of the half by Jordan Gainey (Gainey hit a three at the first-half buzzer) really gave us some spark that we needed going into halftime, and we came back and regrouped.”
Presbyterian guard Jalen Forrest led all Blue Hose scorers with 18 on the night but hit just 9-of-20 tries on the evening and 2-of-10 in the second half. The defense to which Dickerson alluded played a large role.
“I thought he got off to a good start. I thought he faltered in the second half,” Ferrell said. “I thought his decision-making was poor down the stretch. He’s a freshman. He’s learning every game. He’ll be a good player, for sure, but he’s got a lot to learn. He’s got a bright future.” Forrest was assessed three turnovers to go with his seven second-half points.
Guard Marquis Barnett was the only other Blue Hose player to finish in double figures, tallying 15 on 5-of-8 shooting and playing all 40 minutes.
“I thought Marquis did a lot of good stuff,” Ferrell said. “He was guarding Jordan Gainey a lot of the time out there. He made some big-time contributions on the offensive end and had a huge chase-down block on the defensive end to give us a chance to win the game. We’ve really challenged Marquis, and he’s responded nicely the last three games.”
Gainey made the eventual game-winning shot on a pull-up jumper with 54 seconds to play. The one-point lead marked the first -- and ultimately final -- second-half advantage for the Spartans.
The game marked the latest in a series of unfortunate finishes for Presbyterian, but Ferrell remains high on his club’s effort.
“I thought we had really good effort overall. I thought certain guys were extremely high-level with their effort and their grit,” Ferrell said. “That’s the part that’s a little bit unfortunate. Playing smart, playing sound, and playing disciplined – that’s the thing we’ve been harping on with our group. I just thought we came up short in that area again tonight.”
Upstate also placed just two scorers in double figures. Bailey guided the Spartans with 16, hitting 4-of-7 shots (3-of-4 from three) and 5-of-7 from the line. Broadnax added 14, making 5-of-7 and hitting three of his four free throws.
Upstate finished the night 21-of-44 (47.7 percent) from the floor. Six of the Spartans’ 11 threes found the net. Presbyterian finished 19-for-57 (33.3 percent), with just 5-of-20 threes (25 percent) finding the mark.
Both teams return to league play Saturday afternoon. Presbyterian (5-15, 1-6 Big South) hosts defending champion Longwood in the Templeton Center in Clinton, S.C. Upstate (9-9, 4-3) travels up Interstate 26 to Kimmel Arena to battle league-leading UNC Asheville. Tip time for both games is set for 2:00 (Eastern), with streaming set for ESPN+.