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@GTMBK Non-Conference Preview - USC Upstate

Oct. 10, 2014

THE FLATS – Each week up until the beginning of basketball season, takes a look at an opponent on Georgia Tech’s non-conference schedule. This week, we look at USC Upstate, whom the Yellow Jackets will face for the first time.

Date: December 6, 2014
Location: Spartanburg, S.C.
Conference: Atlantic Sun
Home arena: G.B. Hodge Center (818)
2013-14 Record: 19-15 overall, 11-7 in Atlantic Sun (3rd place), 176th in NCAA RPI
Post-Season: CIT First Round, lost to Towson 63-60
NCAA Championship Appearances: 0 (6 in Division II)
All-time series record: First meeting
Head coach: Eddie Payne (entering 12th season, 176-191)
Starters returning/lost: 2/3
Top scorer returning: Ty Greene (14.3)
Top rebounder returning: ShunQuez Stephens (3.4)

Quick preview for 2014-15

Last year’s USC Upstate men’s basketball team leaned heavily on its frontcourt; that won’t be the case in 2014-15. Gone are All-Atlantic Sun forwards Torrey Craig and Ricardo Glenn as are their combined 30 points and 15 rebounds per game. Instead the Spartans will shift the focus from their big men to their point men in Ty Greene and Mario Blessing. In addition to Greene and Blessing, head coach Eddie Payne will also utilize sixth man Fred Miller to spread the ball offensively. While Greene, Blessing and Miller were top three in assists for USC Upstate, the Spartans lost their top three rebounders from a year ago. As a result Coach Payne will rely upon an extremely young frontcourt that as an eight-man unit combines just four starts at the Division I level.

Quick recap of 2013-14

The 2013-14 season was another step in the right direction for USC Upstate basketball as it looks to establish itself as a competitive Division I program. The Spartans netted a pair of milestone road wins by knocking off Virginia Tech and South Carolina in non-conference play. The victories gave USC Upstate their first wins over ACC and SEC opponents. In the Atlantic Sun the Spartans finished with a record 11-7 and placed third behind recent March Madness darlings Mercer and Florida Gulf Coast. In fact the Spartans nearly knocked off Mercer in double overtime in the semifinal round of the A-Sun tournament, but the Bears prevailed, 78-75. Mercer went on to secure the Atlantic Sun crown and, later, a shocking upset over the Duke Blue Devils in the NCAA’s. For USC Upstate, their bid to the Postseason Tournament was just their second Division I postseason appearance in school history. But again the Spartans came up just short falling to Towson, 63-60, on a half-court buzzer beater on their own home floor.

Greatest program accomplishment

1982 NAIA National Championship – Long before USC-Upstate joined the Division I men’s basketball ranks in 2011 and long before they changed their mascot to Spartans in 2004, the USCS Rifles were men’s basketball champions at the NAIA level. Unlike the lore of many small-school basketball programs, the Rifles were far from a Cinderella story. Coach Jerry Waters and his squad were picked to repeat as District Six champs and went undefeated at home in the 1982 regular season. In the district championship the Rifles downed top-seeded College of Charleston in the final seconds on James Holland’s steal and Wendall Gibson’s dunk for a 54-52 victory. As district champions the Rifles advanced to the national tournament in Kansas City, Mo. where they would need to win a grueling five games in five nights. USCS cruised through the first four games winning by an average of nearly ten points. On the fifth and final night the Rifles went toe to toe against an NAIA juggernaut, undefeated Biola University. The Rifles hung tough through the first 30 minutes and with 9:40 remaining closed the game on a 23-11 run for a 51-38 win and the program’s first and only national title.

Greatest player in program history

Michael Gibson – Michael J. Gibson arrived in Spartanburg in the fall of 1978 and joined a struggling USCS basketball program that had won just 16 games over its last four seasons. Over Gibson’s four-year career the Spartans went 78-50, won two district titles and the 1982 NAIA national championship. Individually, Gibson still holds the USC-Upstate career mark in rebounding (930) and ranks third all-time in scoring (1,722), games played (120) and field goals made (1,390). Gibson’s professional career began after being selected in the second round of 1982 NBA draft by the Washington Bullets. Gibson appeared in 64 NBA games and remains the only USC-Upstate player to play in the ABA or NBA.

Place to visit on campus or in the city

Peachoid Water Tower – The Peachoid Water Tower is a South Carolina icon and is located just northeast of Spartanburg. The tower stands 135 feet tall and has been affectionately referred to as “The Moon over Gaffney.” Its origins date back to 1981 when the Gaffney Board of Public Works approved the project and contracted macro-artist Peter Fruedenberg to design the tower. Fruedenberg chose the peach design at the request of the general public because the local economy was then largely dependent upon peach orchards and at one point produced more peaches than the state of Georgia (“The Peach State”). The water tower still stands today and is a familiar site to both Spartanburg residents and I-85 motorists.


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