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In USC Spartanburg's first full season at the Hodge Center, the Spartan Rifles turned into a surprise contender in the Palmetto Athletic Conference, finishing the regular season 16-6 under head coach Joe Bowman.
Entering the seven-team tournament at the Hodge Center as the No. 3 seed, the Rifles were led by sophomore Chuck Evans, who averaged 14.4 points per game and James Brooks, who averaged 14.0 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. In the frontcourt, the Rifles were led by a pair of non-traditional students in Robert "Firechief" Smith, who at age 36 averaged 12.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, and J.C. Humphries, who at age 29 averaged 8.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.
After pounding USC Salkehatchie, 96-69, in the first round, the Spartan Rifles defeated USC Lancaster in the semifinals, 65-58, thanks to Smith's dominating effort, as he scored 20 points, including 14 in the second half. The Rifles clinched a spot in the National Little College Athletic Association Regionals, a pre-cursor to the National Junior College Athletic Association, with the semifinal win.
However, the next day, USCS was out for revenge against the Pacers, who had beaten USCS twice during the regular season. It was a tense, tight game full of emotion, so much so that the key moment came when Humphries was ejected after a flagrant foul was called with 10 minutes left and USC Aiken leading by two points.
"It might have been a blessing," Bowman told The Herald-Journal of the foul. "He was doing a fantastic job for us before he was thrown out. It seemed to fire up the team, though, and they handled the ball well."
The Rifles rallied after the call, going on a 12-2 run in the next three minutes to take a 54-47 lead. The Pacers took a one-point lead with 4:30 left but Whiteside scored two big buckets from there on offensive rebounds, helping the Rifles to ice the 68-63 win.
"We knew we had to control Aiken's fast break and their quickness," Bowman said. "We also wanted good execution and to tie them up if we could. I think we did well, particularly when we needed it."
The result was the first and only junior college-level championship for USCS in the Hodge's history, coming one year before USCS joined the NAIA as a four-year institution.