LOUISVILLE – The nationally 20th-ranked University of South Carolina Aiken men's basketball team closed out its magical season with a narrow 84-75 Elite Eight loss to No. 7 Drury on Thursday evening at Freedom Hall.
The Southeast Region champion Pacers were making their first-ever appearance in the Elite Eight in the game. Drury with the win moves on to the national semifinal round where they will face off against defending national champion Western Washington.
USC Aiken ends its year with a 25-8 record. The Pacers claimed the Peach Belt Conference regular-season crown, Peach Belt Conference Tournament championship and NCAA Division II Men's Basketball Southeast Region title in the 2012-13 season.
Drury (29-4) opened the game on a 7-0 run over the course of the first two minutes of the contest. The Panthers would own a 17-4 advantage with 12:53 to play in the opening stanza.
After four early free throws, USC Aiken would hit its first field goal of the game when Re'mon Nelson knocked down a 3-pointer from the left corner with 12:30 to play in the first half of action.
USC Aiken would then proceed to go on a 14-6 run to pull within five at 23-18 with 9:39 to play in the inaugural half.
Just under three minutes later after a three-point play by DeVontae Wright (Goose Creek, S.C./The Citadel) the Pacers had cut the Panther lead to just four at 28-24.
Drury would eventually enter halftime with a 42-36 lead.
USC Aiken closed out the first half shooting 43.5 percent (10-for-23) from the field as a team. The Pacers knocked down 50 percent (4-of-8) of their 3-point attempts in the first stanza. USC Aiken shot 80 percent (12-for-15) from the charity stripe in the first half.
Drury ended the first half shooting 44.8 percent (13-for-29) as a team. The Panthers knocked down 44.4 percent (4-of-9) of their 3-point attempts. Drury also shot 80 percent (12-for-15) from the free throw line in the first stanza.
USC Aiken opened the first 1:30 of the second half on an 8-2 run to pull even with Drury at 44-44.
After a Drury bucket on its next offensive possession, the Pacers would then take their first lead of the game at 47-46 after a Ronald Zimmerman (Columbia, S.C./Spring Valley HS) 3-pointer from the right corner with 17:46 to play in the second half. Zimmerman hit another 3-pointer minutes later to give the Pacers the lead 50-46 with 15:51 left in the contest.
The Pacers would not be able to add to their advantage as Drury would retake the lead a little while later. The Panthers would lead by 11 at 68-57 with 7:06 to play in the contest.
USC Aiken unfortunately was not able to get any closer in their eventual nine-point loss to Drury.
The Pacers closed out their loss shooting 40 percent (24-for-60) from the field as a team. USC Aiken knocked down 46.2 percent (12-of-26) of its 3-point attempts in the game. The Pacers shot 68.2 percent (15-for-22) from the free throw line as a team in the game.
Drury shot 46.6 percent (27-for-58) from the field as a team. The Panthers knocked down just 35.3 percent (6-of-17) of its 3-point attempts in the contest. Drury hit 85.7 percent (24-for-28) of its free throw attempts in the game.
USC Aiken was led by three players in double figures with Zimmerman leading the way with a team-best 20 points. The national leader in 3-pointers made, Zimmerman nailed six treys in the game.
The only senior on the team, Nelson (Columbus, Ohio/Canal Winchester HS) finished with a double-double with 16 points and 10 assists.
Nelson closes out his prestigious career as the all-time leader in Peach Belt Conference history with 525 assists. USC Aiken's all-time steals leader concluded his Pacer career with 196 steals.
The Peach Belt Conference Player of the Year, the Peach Belt Conference Tournament Most Valuable Player and the NCAA Division II Men's Basketball Southeast Region Most Outstanding Player, Nelson is second all-time in USC Aiken's NCAA Division II history with 1,251 career points.
Wright was the final Pacer in double figures with 10 points. He also had five assists and five rebounds.
USC Aiken's Paul Larsen claimed a game-high 15 rebounds in the contest.
All-American Alex Hall led four Panthers in double figures with a game-high 33 points.