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By Scott Rouch

basketball_bouncesAiken, SC - With four teams entering with a total of four losses between them, the round robin 2010 Conoco Phillips and Quality Energy Services Pre-Holiday Classic hosted by USC Aiken promised to be a good one.

Day one did not disappoint.

The Shaw University Bears stole the thunder from host and fourth-ranked USC Aiken Pacers with a hard-fought 62-58 win in the nightcap while 23rd-ranked Virginia Union University fell to the Trojans of Mt. Olive College 79-76 in overtime in the tournament’s first game.

Day two pits the Bears (5-1) against Mount Olive (6-2) while the Panthers (2-1) take on the Pacers (6-2).

"If we come in and take care of business this weekend, we’ll have a number before our name, too," said Bears head coach Cleo Hill, Jr. "That was the goal and that’s still the goal. You want to go 2-0 in these things, at least 1-1. We know Mt. Olive is good," Hill said of his upcoming opponent.

Mt. Olive showed their mettle as they came from behind to tie the game late in regulation before downing the Panthers in overtime. Despite the loss, Panthers head coach Willard Coker wasn’t overly concerned about one loss so early in his team’s season.

"This is just our third ballgame of the year," Coker said. "We’re still working out kinks and these are two tough games. We have to realize we have to play tough and bounce back and be ready for tomorrow."

Early season candidates for CIAA Player of the Year showcased their abilities, with Shaw’s Raheem Smith scoring 21 points while Panthers senior guard Braxton Byerson went for 34. Smith went 6-15 from the field and more importantly hit 8-of-10 from the free throw line while Byerson was 12-29 from the field, including 6-19 from behind the arc.

The Bears broke open a close game in the last seven minutes of the first half and first two minutes of the second half. Down by two, the Bears outscored the Pacers 13-4 to close out the half then scored the first four points of the second half to build the lead to 36-25. Pushing the tempo was the key against the bigger Pacers, who the Bears outrebounded 44-41.

"That’s what we always talk about is the first five minutes of the second half," Hill said. "Getting the rebounds and getting in transition early in the second half. Even late we want to be in fast-break mode," Hill added.

The Pacers closed to within three twice, the last coming at 61-58 with 36 seconds to play, but a Tony Smith free throw shut the door. The Pacers hurt themselves at the line converting just 14-of-27 attempts.

Tony Smith scored 13 points for the Bears while Sheridan Price added 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Michael Technow led the Pacers with 15 points and Sterling Council had 14 points before fouling out with 23.8 seconds left in the game.

Free throws told the story in game one as the Trojans made 25-33 attempts while the Panthers sank 12-of-15.

It was a back-and-forth affair in which neither team ever led by more than six points and overtime was no exception as the teams traded shots throughout. The Panthers led by one until Brandon Allen made a layup and free throw after Juan Wilson was whistled for a blocking foul. Trailing 78-76, the Panthers didn’t get a good look at the basket, the Trojans made 1-2 free throws on the other end and Byerson’s final 3-point attempt was off the mark.

Byerson scored his 34 points after overcoming a dismal first half when he sank just one-of-nine from behind the arc. "We tell him (Byerson) he has to stay aggressive," Coker said. "We know he can score and take it to them. He’s our senior and our shooter and we’ll go with him." Gregory Redford added 11 points and 10 rebounds for the Panthers.

TIn regulation, the Panthers led 67-65 with 22 seconds to play when the Trojans Mahamed Ibrahim missed two free throws.but Allen put back the miss to tie the game. Byerson missed two shots and the Panthers survived a good look at a 3-pointer by Derek Staton as time expired.

"They were small and athletic and had a lot of energy. I think that hurt us; they never gave up," Coker said. "I told our bunch they were down 18 to St. Augustine’s College and they came back to win;-they don’t give up."

The Trojans balanced attack was led by Staton with 20 points and four assists, Ewon Wright had 16 points, Allen added 12 while Ibrahim and Aleks Mitrovic chipped in 10 points apiece.


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