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Spartans Tame Mustangs; Take First Win Over D-I Opponent

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Mwzie Uzochukwu sank two free throws with 0.6 seconds to play to lift Upstate over SMU.

Mwzie Uzochukwu sank two free throws with 0.6 seconds to play to lift Upstate over SMU.

Dec. 18, 2007

Box Score

DALLAS, Tex. - Mezie Uzochukwu sank two free throws with 0.6 seconds to play in the game and Upstate used an 18-0 run to turn the tide in the second half as USC Upstate claimed a 58-56 victory over SMU Tuesday night at Moody Coliseum.

The win marks the first victory over a Division I opponent in the history of the school. Upstate is playing its first year as a member of NCAA Division I. The Spartans had played seven games against D-I schools prior to the SMU game. Upstate has several wins over schools who now play on the Division I level but who, like Upstate were members of the NAIA when the games were played.

"That was obviously a big win," said Upstate head coach Eddie Payne. "We've struggled and needed the win. It's important because our kids are excited about it. They've gotten a reward for their hard work. As we have said, this (making transition to Division I) is a tremendously difficult challenge. I am really excited for them."

Upstate improves to 2-8 on the season, while SMU falls to 4-5. The Spartans travel to El Paso, Tex., to take part in the four-team State Farm Sun Bowl Tournament Friday and Saturday. Upstate opens the tournament against host UTEP at 7:00 pm. MST on Friday.

Upstate struggled from the field early in the second half, falling behind by 14, 52-38, with 8:38 to play in the game. The tide would soon turn, though, as Jeremy Byrd's two free throws ignited an 18-0 run and Upstate outscored SMU 20-4 to end the game and take the win on Uzochukwu's free throws.

"I knew I had two shots and I just wanted to make one," said Uzochukwu. "In that situation, it eases the stress knowing you have two shots to make one. I got the first one to fall and it was like all the stress went away. Coach called a timeout and told me to miss the second one, but it went in."

Papa Dia's inbounds pass over half court was tipped by Rashawn Brailsford and time expired to give Upstate its historic win.

"Coach got us in the huddle and got on us," said Luke Payne. "We got together and decided to start the comeback with defense. We got some stops and started making shots and we just got into a flow. Jeremy got out there and busted his tail. Everybody stepped up and did different things to help us get this win. We did our part on defense."

Upstate started strong in the first half, getting back-to-back three-pointers from Josh Chavis and Luke Payne to open a 6-4 lead. The Spartans held onto the lead at the first media timeout, taking an 11-7 lead with 15:44 to play as five different Spartans scored in the first four minutes.

Upstate opened a 17-13 lead with 11:55 to play, but the Spartans went scoreless for nearly seven minutes, allowing SMU to take its first lead, 19-17, with 6:55 to play. Papa Dia converted 1-of-2 free throws to give the Mustangs a 20-17 lead.

After an Upstate missed shot, Payne brought the Spartans back even with a layup and free throw, ending the scoring drought with 6:01 to play before halftime. On SMU's next possession, Payne came up with the steal and Bobby Davis converted the layup to give Upstate a 22-20 lead.

Upstate held a 24-23 lead with 3:02 to play, but SMU closed out the half with a 7-2 run to open a 30-26 lead. The Spartans went without a basket or point for the final 3:02 of the half.

SMU's bench did the job in the first half, outscoring Upstate's bench 14-3. The Mustangs also outscored the Spartans 6-0 in second chance points, grabbing five offensive rebounds.

Roberts led the way for SMU in the first half, scoring nine points to lead the Mustangs. Chavis led the way for Upstate with eight points.

Upstate's scoring woes extended into the second half. The Spartans went scoreless for the first 4:16 of the half, extending its scoring drought to 7:16. The scoreless start to the second half enabled SMU to score the first four points and open a 34-26 lead.

Payne again brought the Spartans back, converting a layup and nailing a three-pointer to get Upstate with three, 34-31, with 15:25 to play in the game. However, SMU countered with a 6-0 run to open 40-31 lead. The Mustangs extended the lead to 10, 44-34, with 11:56 remaining.

SMU pushed the lead to 12 points on Mike Walker's three pointer with 9:03 to play in the game and 14 on a pair of free throws by Alex Malone with 8:38 to play.

Jeremy Byrd converted a pair of free throws to ignite an 18-0 Upstate run that gave Upstate its first win. Following Byrd's free throws, Payne added a layup to cut the SMU lead to 10 points, 52-42, with under eight minutes to play. A pair of free throws by Justin Houser cut into the SMU lead even more as the Spartans got within eight, 52-44, with 6:0 to play. A Byrd free throw with 5:42 to play got the Spartans within seven.

Gabor Boros' three-pointer cut the SMU lead to 52-48 with 4:44 to play, forcing Doherty to call a timeout. Following the timeout, SMU missed a three-pointer with the shot clock running down and Byrd was fouled 20 feet from the basket. The senior from Greenville, S.C., converted both to cut the lead to two, 52-50, with 4:04 to play.

Mezie Uzochukwu's eight-foot jumper tied the game at 52-52 to bring the Spartans all the way back and Payne's layup gave the Spartans a 54-52 lead with 2:46 to play. Payne extended the Upstate lead to 56-52 with a fade-away jumper with 1:40 to play.

Dia converted a short jumper with 1:22 to play to get SMU within two, 56-54. Walker tied the game at 54-54 on a short jumper in the lane with 36 seconds to play.

Payne broke down the defense and fed Uzochukwu under the basket. Uzochukwu was fouled and converted both free throws to give the Spartans a 58-56 lead with 0.6 seconds to play.

Payne finished with a game-high 19 points to lead Upstate. Davis added 10 points and six rebounds, while Nick Schneiders, who altered several SMU shots, finished with a career-high 13 rebounds. Byrd added eight points and two steals, and his defensive pressure helped spur the Spartans to the comeback as Upstate turned things around on the defensive end of the court.

"Our defense created things for us," said Eddie Payne. "Late in the game when it looked like we were dead we were able to create. Our bench gave us energy. Nick played a good game. Had 13 rebounds and was a big factor. Luke played well again. We only had 11 turnovers. I'm glad we got the win."

Bamba Fall led SMU with 15 points and four blocked shots. Roberts added 11 for the Mustangs who saw their four-game winning streak snapped.

 
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