Malik Moore’s three-pointer as time expired lifted the USC Upstate men’s basketball team to a 72-71 victory over the NJIT Highlanders on Senior Night Thursday evening inside the Hodge Center.
Upstate improves to 10-21 overall and 4-10 in the A-Sun, while NJIT falls to 17-13 on the season and 8-6 in league play.
Josh Cuthbertson scored a game-high 15 points to lead the Spartans offensively and led four players in double-figures. Moore was one of three Spartans to post 10 points along with Mike Cunningham and Philip Whittington. Cuthbertson also tied his career-best of nine rebounds while Jure Span dished out five assists.
Damon Lynn finished with a game-high 21 points for the Highlanders, and Tim Coleman and Ky Howard both had six rebounds. Howard also contributed five assists.
Upstate opened the game on a 9-2 run as Cuthbertson recorded five of those nine points. Deion Holmes would give the Spartans the seven-point lead with 14:24 to go on his steal and dunk. Upstate quickly jumped out to a double-digit advantage less than nine minutes into the contest, leading by as many as 14 twice during that stretch. The last of those leads came at the 9:11 mark on a triple from Span.
NJIT managed to cut its deficit down to 10 with 5:04 remaining on Mohamed Bendary’s layup, but the Spartans answered by taking their largest lead of the half with 1:29 left as Whittington’s jumper gave them a 33-17 cushion. The Highlanders scored the final four points of the half to send Upstate into halftime ahead 33-21.
The Spartans led by double-digits for a majority of the second half. After NJIT trimmed the Upstate lead to 38-26 less than two minutes into half, the Spartans went back up 18 just over four minutes later when Cunningham’s three extended the lead out to 48-30. Upstate took its largest lead of the contest, 54-34, with 12:38 left on Moore’s layup.
The Highlanders slowly chipped away at the Spartans lead over the next six minutes before getting to within nine, 60-51, at the 6:51 mark on a pair of Howard free throws. Upstate was able to build its lead back to 68-54 with 3:31 to go after Michael Buchanan’s field goal. The Spartans would be held without a basket for the next 1:29 as NJIT went on a 12-0 run to make it a one possession game at 68-66 as the clock just reached two minutes remaining in the game.
The Highlanders took their first lead of the contest with seven seconds left when Chris Jenkins connected on a three-pointer near the NJIT bench, putting it ahead 71-69. Span dribbled the length of the court and dished the ball out to Moore where his game-winning attempt went through the net just as the clock hit zero.
Upstate finished the game shooting 46.6% (27-of-58) while the Highlanders were 42.9% (27-of-63) as a team. The Spartans outrebounded NJIT 39-34; and held the advantage in points off turnovers (19-18), second chance points (11-10), fast break points (10-8) and bench points (29-15).
Upstate is the eighth-seed in next week’s A-Sun Men’s Basketball Championship and will travel to Jacksonville, Fla. Tuesday, Mar. 1 for a 7:30 p.m. matchup with top-seeded North Florida for the third time this season.
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