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Upstate flips the script, takes down Charleston Southern in dominant fashion

Upstate forward Khydarius Smith throws down a dunk. Smith scored six points on 3-for-4 shooting in Wednesday night's win. (Photo: Upstate Athletics)

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Anyone who watched USC Upstate’s game Wednesday might be inclined to think of a movie when seeing their play. The on-court effort and box score may elicit thoughts of Hoosiers or some other sports movie where the protagonist emerges victorious.

Would you accept The Wizard of Oz as a comparison?

Coach Dave Dickerson and his Spartans channeled their inner Bert Lahr Wednesday, leading for 99.2 percent of the contest in a strong, 77-60 victory over Charleston Southern at the Hodge Center. There may have been a hint of payback on Upstate’s minds – CSU claimed a 90-85 decision over Upstate in the Buc Dome on New Year’s Eve – but something bigger lurked.

Oh, right – that Wizard of Oz comparison. Not that Dickerson’s Spartans were cowardly, but…

“We’ve talked about having courage to be a good team and to overcome some of our weaknesses and strengthen some of our strengths,” Dickerson said after the game Wednesday. “We’re a young basketball team without a lot of Division 1 experience, but that doesn’t say we can’t win games.”

To call Upstate’s effort courageous is a bit of an understatement.

“We didn’t foul (tonight),” Dickerson said. “They went to the line 31 times down in Charleston and they had 17 offensive rebounds. Those two things stood out, to where the last two days we worked on rebounding the basketball and taking care of the basketball. Our guys did a hell of a job tonight of preventing those things from happening and giving us a chance to win and play well at home.”

Dickerson’s points were well-taken. The Bucs hauled in 10 offensive rebounds on the night; however, those boards came off 38 CSU misses. The visitors were also able to stride to the line just eight times Wednesday – hitting seven – and never reached the bonus the entire game.

The work on taking care of the basketball Dickerson cited also showed. Key guards Jordan Gainey and Trae Broadnax were responsible for just two miscues on the evening – the Spartans committed just 13 – a key stat that was not lost on Dickerson.

“I brought those two guys in Monday and showed them their turnovers from the Asheville game (last Saturday),” Dickerson said. “They came out tonight and they did not turn the ball over, which is a good thing. Against a good offensive team like Charleston Southern, if you can take care of the basketball and have some good possessions, you have a chance against them. That’s what we did tonight.”

The pair also combined to dish eight helpers on Upstate’s 19 made baskets.

Freshman Justin Bailey again played a key role in the Spartans’ effort. Bailey contributed 15 points to the victorious effort, knocking down 5-of-9 tries from the deck (2-of-5 from distance) and pilfering CSU three times. Dickerson cited Bailey’s energy and toughness as key factors in the contest.

“His toughness is infectious, along with the fact that he doesn’t have a bad day. I haven’t seen him have a bad day, and he’s been here since June,” Dickerson said. “That’s the sign of a guy that can play a lot of minutes. He’s probably playing the second-most minutes for us right now, and he can play at a high level. He’s such a good teammate, and I think that’s the most infectious thing about him. He enjoys where his feet are right now.”

The turnovers – or lack thereof – also helped key Upstate’s pace on both ends of the floor. The Spartans compelled nine steals and blocked five shots on defense, then showed patience on the offensive end of the floor.

“We wanted to talk about playing fast, scoring early, and scoring late,” Dickerson said. “I think that concept has really helped them. Our whole team has resonated. We did a good job for about 30 minutes. For about 10 minutes, we kinda lost our composure. We’re a team that needs to take early offense, but if we don’t have that, we need to break the ball down a little bit and run some good system-type basketball offensively.”

The Spartans also held CSU to its lowest field goal percentage in Big South play, as the Bucs hit just 36.7 percent (22-for-60) of their tries from the field. CSU also tried its fewest amount of free throws in any Big South game this season. That bounce-back performance after the first meeting between the teams this season thrilled Dickerson.

“They scored 90 points on us down in Charleston. We knew that we had to take away threes,” Dickerson said. “If they make a lot of threes, you’re in trouble. Our length and athleticism on the perimeter when we’re connected is really good. Our gameplan was to take away threes and to try to be connected on the defensive end and keep them out of the paint. We could then have a chance to dig in a little harder.”

Charleston Southern recorded a tie for its third-lowest three-point shooting percentage (.333) in Big South play in the contest. The Bucs also took their third-highest number of threes in conference play, hoisting 27 tries from distance. Nine of those tries found the net.

Gainey turned in his third 20-point effort in Big South play Wednesday, knocking down 7-of-13 tries (4-for-8 from three) from the deck. Bailey’s 15 accompanied Gainey’s effort, with Broadnax adding 11 on 5-for-8 from the floor. Broadnax also hauled in eight boards and dished six dimes on the night. Upstate hit 53.6 percent (30-for-56) of its tries on a hot shooting night, with 44.4 percent (12-for-27) connecting from beyond the arc.

Charleston Southern was paced by its own 20-point scorer, Tyeree Bryan. Bryan’s 20 points were his best in a Big South contest this season, with eight of his 12 attempts from the floor falling. Half of Bryan’s makes came on triples. Guard Claudell Harris added 14, but the Spartans compelled him to try 13 shots. Harris made five of those tries. The Bucs were 9-for-27 from distance and 13-for-33 inside the line, owing largely to the Spartans’ defensive intensity.

The two sides resume Big South play Saturday afternoon. Upstate (11-13, 6-7 Big South) ventures to Winthrop Coliseum in Rock Hill, S.C., to battle Winthrop in a 5:00 (Eastern) start. Charleston Southern returns home to the Buc Dome to take on Radford. That game is slated for a 5:30 tip. Both tilts are slated for streaming on ESPN+.


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