EVANSVILLE, IN (WFXG) - In a game for the ages, the No. 5 University of South Carolina Aiken men's basketball team came up just short in the 86-83 loss to West Liberty in the national semifinal Thursday evening.
The Pacers conclude the season with a 33-4 record.
Paul Larsen's lay-up at the 5:01 mark gave head coach Vince Alexander's team the 76-75 lead. However, it marked the last time the squad would have the advantage in the game.
Just 4:05 later, USC Aiken found itself down by six, but Rick Alderman's lay-up pulled the squad within four with 44 ticks on the clock. After a free throw by the Hilltoppers, Ronald Zimmerman buried a three off a pass from Shane Porchea with 25 seconds remaining, making it an 85-83 game.
West Liberty made one-of-two free throws after Zimmerman was called for the foul with 14 seconds remaining for a three-point edge. The Pacers had a chance to tie it on a Derrick Scott three from the corner with one second left, but it came up just short in the outstanding contest.
USC Aiken found itself in an 8-0 hole right out of the gate, but the senior-laden team methodically worked its way back into the game, tying the contest at 10 on DeVontae Wright's jumper at the 12:52 mark. The Pacers continued on the 14-2 run as Porchea and Zimmerman canned back-to-back shots.
Alexander's team stretched its lead to seven on a three-ball by Zimmerman at the 9:09 mark for a 19-12 advantage. However, the Hilltoppers came back, tying it at 21. Neither team could gain much of an edge the rest of the half, but a lay-up with 43 seconds remaining gave West Liberty a 41-40 lead at the break.
The Hilltoppers built a six-point lead at the 17:19 mark of the second half, but the Pacers never let it hit double digits. Although USC Aiken trailed by eight at the 12:45 mark, a three-pointer by Zimmerman and a coast-to-coast drive by Grant Harris trimmed it to two after Harris netted the old-fashioned three-point play.
The Pacers eventually took a 64-63 lead after it embarked on a 6-0 spurt. During the run, Paul Larsen made an inside shot and Wright buried two free throws. The Pacers took the lead when Porchea hit both charity tosses at the 10:30 mark. The squad completed the 8-0 spurt when Larsen netted another lay-up for a 66-63 lead.
After the designated home team pulled within one at 68-67, Jesse Seilern netted four straight points for a 72-67 margin.
Leading the way for USC Aiken was Wright, who netted a team-high 19 points. Zimmerman added 13 while Larsen and Porchea hit for 12 each. Santoine Butler came off the bench to grab a team-best 11 rebounds. Larsen and Alderman added nine and eight, respectively.
The Pacers canned 40.5 percent of their shots from the floor and out-rebounded the Hilltoppers 46-38. USC Aiken also held WLU to 22.2 percent shooting from downtown.