The No. 5 University of South Carolina Aiken men's basketball team led from start to finish en route to an 84-73 victory over third-seeded Montevallo Tuesday evening to earn a spot in the NCAA Division II Elite Eight.
The Pacers improve to 32-3 on the season.
Leading the way for the victors was senior Jesse Seilern, who accounted for a team-high 17 points. Paul Larsen accounted for 14 points and 12 rebounds for a double-double, while Ronald Zimmerman netted 14 markers. DeVontae Wright added 11 points to go along with a game-best six assists.
USC Aiken limited the Falcons to 39.1 percent shooting from the floor (25-of-64), including just three-of-14 (21.4 percent) from downtown. Head coach Vince Alexander's team connected on 44.8 percent (26-of-58) from the floor. In spite of hitting just five-of-15 from behind the three-point stripe, the squad managed to get to the charity stripe 34 times – and connected on 27 attempts (79.4 percent).
The Pacers jumped out to a five-point edge just 1:19 into the game as Larsen hit a lay-up and Seilern buried a three from the wing. The squad pushed the advantage to nine at the 16:32 mark when Seilern connected on another shot from deep.
Although the Falcons pulled within three with 12:14 to go in the half, Alexander's team netted five straight points – all of which came from the right hand of Seilern – for a 20-12 lead at the second media time-out.
USC Aiken's lead reached double figures when Zimmerman hit a three-pointer off a pass from Seilern at the 6:39 mark for a 30-19 edge. Although the lead dipped into single digits momentarily, Zimmerman's second three of the game extended the point spread to a dozen at 33-21. Alexander's team held the double-digit advantage the rest of the half and took a 43-30 lead into the break.
Montevallo managed to keep the score around 10 points in the early going of the second half and eventually sliced the deficit to eight when Troran Brown hit a lay-up at the 12:23 mark.
However, it was the last time that the Falcons would be that close. Santoine Butler hit a jumper and Alvin Brown connected on an inside shot for another bucket. Seilerns' two free throws with 10:02 to play made it a 63-49 contest.
After Montevallo pulled within 10 once again, the Pacers turned up the pressure. Grant Harris, who played outstanding defense on Brown, the PBC Player of the Year, nailed a jumper from the wing for a 15-point cushion with 5:48 to play.
The biggest lead of the second half came when Wright made a free throw with 49 ticks left on the clock.
During the game, Wright scored his 1,000th career point while Larsen's 12 rebounds catapulted him into first in the USC Aiken record book for most rebounds in a single season (307). Brown's three blocks increased the PBC and USC Aiken single-season record for blocks in a season to 135. Wright's 39 minutes also allowed him to become the PBC's single-season leader in minutes played with 1,272.
Wright was named the Southeast Regional MVP while Zimmerman and Brown were named to the all-tournament team.
The Pacers will travel to Evansville, Ind., for the Elite Eight. The squad will take on Chico State (25-7) in the National Quarterfinals on March 26 at 9:30 EST.