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Zips Fend Off Upset-Minded Spartans

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Bobby Daivs and the Spartans nearly pulled off the upset of Akron.

Bobby Daivs and the Spartans nearly pulled off the upset of Akron.

Nov. 16, 2007

Box Score

FAIRBANKS, Alaska - USC Upstate had three opportunities in the final 12 seconds to tie the game against Akron, but the Zips held off the Spartans to take a 64-60 victory Friday night in the BP Top of the World Classic at the Carlson Center.

"I thought we played better in the second half, good enough to get back into the game," said Upstate head coach Eddie Payne. "We had more intensity on the defensive side of the ball and got some solid contributions from a number of different players. Luke played great tonight."

Upstate takes on the loser of the Portland State-IUPUI game played later Friday night. The game will be at 2:30 p.m. AKT, 6:30 p.m. EST and can be heard in Spartanburg on ESPN 1400 AM and via the internet at www.upstatespartans.com and www.espn1400am.com.

Luke Payne led the way for Upstate, finishing the game with 17 points and three rebounds. However, the senior guard took a hard foul late in the game and was limited during the final minutes of play. The Spartans, though, found others to turn to down the stretch.

Upstate had trimmed a double-digit deficit to seven points on two occasions before Rory Spencer cut through the middle of the paint and took a pass from Rashawn Brailsford. Spencer put the layup away to cut the Akron lead to five. The Spartans forced the Zips into a missed shot and Mezie Uzochukwu nailed a three pointer from the left corner in front of an energized Upstate bench to get the Spartans within two, 58-56, with 4:33 to play.

The lead grew to seven again with Akron opening a 63-56 lead with 1:26 to play. However, the Spartans would not give up. Uzochukwu converted a layup and, after a Brailsford steal on Cedrick Midddleton, Spencer again made good on a short shot to get the Spartans within three, 63-60, with 43 seconds remaining.

Upstate fouled Akron standout Jeremiah Wood and the senior missed both free throws, opening up the door for Upstate. The Spartans gained possession with 28 seconds to play and Payne missed an off balanced three-pointer with 22 seconds to go. Payne, though, followed his shot and got the rebound. He found Bobby Davis open on the wing and the junior's three-pointer looked on line but hit off the front of the rim. Again, the ball came off to Upstate and Davis found Jeremy Byrd in the corner. Byrd's three-point attempt hit off the rim and Akron secured the rebound. Wood was fouled and converted 1-of-2 free throws to get put the game away.

"Everyone was jumping up before he (Bobby Davis) even shot it," said Brailsford. "We had good opportunities, they just didn't fall. They will next time. We need to play the whole game, the full 40 minutes. That's our team motto this year and we have to do that."

Wood was the star of the night, finishing with 23 points and 10 rebounds, recording his 13th double-double of his career. However, the 6-6 post player had some trouble dealing with 7-2 center Nick Schneiders all night. It wasn't until Schneiders got into foul trouble in the first half that Wood was able to gain control down low.

Foul trouble was a common theme for the Spartans in the game. Schneiders picked up his second foul of the game with 12:21 to play in the first half. Davis also picked up two fouls in the first half. With a depleted front line, the Spartans were at the mercy of Wood. Wood finished with 14 points in the first half to deliver a 41-26 halftime lead.

Upstate shot 37.0 percent from the floor in the first half and allowed Akron to connect on 55.6 percent of its shots from the floor. That spelled the difference in the first half as the Zips opened the 15-point advantage.

Byrd got into foul trouble in the second half. However, this time the Spartans were able to withstand the foul trouble as Brailsford came on to log key minutes. Brailsford dished out two key assists in the second half and a steal late in the game to help spearhead a furious Upstate comeback. Uzochukwu and Spencer also contributed down the stretch to help the Spartan cause.

"The intensity level is higher now in college than it was in high school," said Brailsford, one of three freshmen on the floor late in the game for the Spartans. "There's a lot of energy. I got in the game more tonight because Jeremy got into foul trouble and I just wanted to play with intensity and help the team."

Upstate cut the Akron lead to single digits with just over 16 minutes to play in the game, but saw Akron methodically push the lead back to double digits, opening a 57-45 lead with 8:56 to play. Payne kept the Spartans in the game until his teammates gathered themselves to make the final push late in the second half.

Schneiders also made himself a part of the run in the second half and finished the game with a career-high 11 points to go along with eight rebounds. He helped alter several of Wood's shots throughout the night. Byrd finished with 10 points and three steals for the Spartans. Spencer finished with a career-high nine points and four rebounds, while Uzochukwu added eight points, five boards and two steals.

Upstate shot 46.4 percent from the floor in the second half and finished the game shooting at a 41.8 percent clip. Akron finished the game shooting 45.1 percent from the floor. The Spartans turned the ball over 13 times in the first half, but committed just five in the second half to get back in the game. Upstate forced 13 Akron miscues on the night. Upstate came up big on the baords, finishing with a 43-29 advantage on the glass for the game. Upstate held a 10-6 edge on the offensive glass.

In addition to Wood, Quade Milum led Akron with 14 points and six rebounds. Middleton finished with 10.

 
USC Upstate Men's Basketball
 
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