With four minutes left in the game, North Georgia’s Ishmael Hollis knocked down a 3-pointer that put his team in front by a solid nine-point margin.
Enter: Re’Mon Nelson.
The Peach Belt Conference player of the year scored 10 points over the final three minutes, 40 seconds of regulation and six points in overtime to lead South Carolina-Aiken to an 88-85 win over the Saints in overtime on Saturday at the Lumpkin Center.
With the win, the Pacers (21-7) advanced to the conference tournament final, which will be played at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday against Montevallo. It is the team’s first trip to the finals since 2010.
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“It was tough,” said Nelson, who finished with 24 points in the game. “They’re a tough team. They really pushed us. I thought about losing in the semifinals before, and I just said that wasn’t happening again.”
He made sure of that. Following Hollis’ 3-pointer with four minutes remaining in the game, Nelson immediately responded with back-to-back 3-pointers of his own to cut the lead to three. Up to that point, Nelson had scored just eight points and had picked up four fouls.
Down two with seven seconds left, Nelson completed the run by making two free throws to tie the game and force overtime.
In overtime, the team fell behind by two right away, but Jesse Seilern his a 3-pointer and Nelson scored six more to give his team the win.
“Re’Mon — what can you say?” Aiken coach Vince Alexander said. “He has heart, he leads his team. The guys believe in him.
“He’s the little engine that could.”
North Georgia (16-12) coach Chris Faulkner shared similar praise for Nelson’s play.
“He made plays,” Faulkner said. “Part of it is the character of that guy. I don’t know, maybe we made him mad.”
One of the biggest factors contributing to the Pacers’ win was the post presence of Santoine Butler and Paul Larsen.
Both players notched double-doubles, dominating the glass and preventing their opponents from getting extra opportunities.
Butler finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds, while Larsen had 10 points and 13 rebounds.
“That’s always important,” Butler said of the team’s presence on the glass. “Coach is constantly beating it into my head. We always have to be there when the shots come off to put a body on them, box them out and go after the ball at its highest point.”
Hollis said his team needed to do a better job of boxing out against big bodies like Butler and Larsen.
“Post players like them, you have to box out and put a body on them,” said Hollis, who finished the game with 19 points and three blocks.
North Georgia had its chances, perhaps outperforming the expectations of people outside of the team.
“We may have been the only people that thought we could win,” Faulkner joked.
The Saints never fell behind by more than five points in the game and led by as many as nine on a couple of occasions late in the game. At one point, the team went on a 17-6 run in which seven different players scored.
Travis Core led the Saints' effort with 21 points.
Ultimately, it was unable to hang on, however.
“I’m disappointed in the fact that we lost, but we played well,” Faulkner said. “We played really, really hard.”
Aiken, which turned the ball over 27 times in the game, will have a shot at its first conference title since 2010 on Sunday.
“God willing, we’ll cut the nets down,” Alexander said.
Montevallo 81, UNC-Pembroke 73
The Montevallo men shot 63 percent from the field and 58 percent from beyond the arc to top North Carolina-Pembroke in the men's semifinal on Saturday.
The win, which made the Falcons (20-8) a perfect 9-0 at the Lumpkin Center, puts them in the conference final, where it will face South Carolina-Aiken on Sunday. Pembroke is in good standing to make the NCAA tournament, having been fourth in the previous region rankings, but will have to wait to learn its fate.
Pembroke (22-9) took a 10-point lead in the first half and dominated in a number of areas for the game. It outscored Montevallo 38-20 in the paint, 31-16 off of turnovers, 10-2 on fast breaks and 17-10 off of the bench. It also turned the ball over just 11 times compared to Montevallo's 19.
The Falcons' high percentage from the field, however--outshooting the Braves by nearly 20 percent--was the difference in the game. Sophomore Troran Brown led the team with 23 points, while brother Jonas Brown notched 17, 15 coming off of 3-pointers. Drico Hightower had 15 points for the Falcons.
Pembroke was led by Brandon Winford's 14 points. K.J. Cooper added 13, and Shahmel Brackett had 12.
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.