Trojans Hold Off Nationally 20th-Ranked USC Aiken 54-53

Trojans Hold Off Nationally 20th-Ranked USC Aiken 54-53

Joneiqua Gary scored 22 points and hit a game-winning three-pointer with 1:19 remaining – her seventh three-pointer of the game – as Mount Olive held on after letting a 16-point second-half lead disappear to defeat nationally 20th-ranked USC Aiken 54-53 in non-conference women's basketball Saturday at Aiken, S.C. The win marked the Trojans' second in three games against nationally ranked teams, dating back to last year's post-season. Saturday's contest was part of the second and final day of the Holley Tractor/Crescent Automotive Conference Challenge, hosted by USC Aiken.

Mount Olive (1-1) led by seven at halftime and scored the first nine points of the second half as Kirksten Mitchell's basket gave the Trojans a 46-30 advantage with 14:51 left to play. But a three-pointer by Mitchell with 11:31 remaining would be the Trojans' only points over the next seven-plus minutes.

USC Aiken (1-1) scored 13 unanswered points after Mitchell's three-pointer and Porscha Martin hit two free throws with 7:05 left to cap a 19-3 Pacer run and tie the game 49-49. Katie Paschal's jumper with 5:59 left put Mount Olive back on top and ended the Trojans' scoreless drought. But Mount Olive would not score again until Gary's game winner.

Martin hit 1-of-2 free throws with 5:37 left to pull USC Aiken within a point, then the Pacers went on a scoring drought of their own. Mariah Durian hit a three-pointer for USC Aiken with 1:35 remaining – the first points by either team in more than four minutes – and the Pacers went on top 53-51. The lead was the first for USC Aiken since a 7-5 lead less than six minutes into the contest.

After failing to score on its previous six possessions, Mount Olive reclaimed the lead on its ensuing possession. Shy'lia Buie found Gary, who put home the three pointer to put the Trojans back on top. Gary was 7-for-12 from three-point range.

The two teams traded turnovers, then Trojan forward Ty Wallace pulled down the rebound on a USC Aiken missed shot with 16 seconds left. Mount Olive missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 11 seconds left, giving USC Aiken one more chance. But the Pacers missed a shot at the buzzer as the Trojans held on to even their record for the tournament and the season.

In the first half, three-pointers by Paschal, Jasmine McDonald and Gary highlighted a 10-0 run and gave Mount Olive a 15-7 lead with 12:22 remaining. USC Aiken got as close as four, but Gary connected on four more three-pointers to give the Trojans their biggest lead of the half at 31-16.

The Trojans held a 13-point lead with 3:08 left before halftime, but were held scoreless for the remainder of the half. Martin and Carly Gilreath each hit 2-of-2 free throws and USC Aiken scored the final six points of the half and cut Mount Olive's lead to 37-30 at the break.

Gary had 16 points in the first half, while McDonald had nine and Paschal had eight as the three players combined for 33 of the Trojans' 37 first-half points.

The second half was scoreless until Wallace's layup three minutes into the half. Gary followed with a three-pointer and McDonald added a fastbreak layup off her own steal before Mitchell's basket gave Mount Olive its biggest lead of the game.

Mackenzie Reese's basket with 13:47 left ended USC Aiken's second-half drought and Reese went on to score the Pacers' first eight points of the second half. Durian's three-pointer with 10:04 remaining cut the margin to single digits at 49-41.

In addition to surviving USC Aiken's comeback Saturday, the Trojans defeated then-No. 8 Limestone in the semifinal round of the 2013 Conference Carolinas Tournament before falling to then-nationally top-ranked Clayton State in the opening round of the 2013 NCAA Division II Southeast Regional. USC Aiken is ranked No. 20 in the USA Today/WBCA Division II Top 25 Preseason Poll.

McDonald notched a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds and extended her streak of double-figure rebound totals to six games, going back to last year's post-season. Including regular season contests from last year, the 5-7 McDonald has pulled down 10 or more rebounds in nine of her last 11 games.

McDonald dished out six assists, as did Mitchell for the second straight game. Paschal added 10 points for Mount Olive. The Trojans were 12-for-20 from three-point range, but only 8-for-31 from inside the three-point line. Mount Olive outrebounded USC Aiken 38-29.

USC Aiken was led by Reese with 19 points, while Martin added a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. The Pacers were 18-for-19 from the free throw line, compared to 2-for-5 for the Trojans.

Mount Olive is off until next Saturday when the Trojans play host to Newberry in their home opener. Tip-off is 5 p.m. at Kornegay Arena.