Cold second-half dooms Panthers in loss at USI

EVANSVILLE -- Southern Indiana came out of halftime on fire, and the Screaming Eagles used a second-half scoring surge to take an 82-63 victory over Kentucky Wesleyan College on Monday in the home opener for the new Screaming Eagles Arena.

KWC senior guard Adam Goetz scored 18 of his game-high 27 points in the first half, leading the Panthers to a 37-31 advantage at intermission.

After that, however, things came unraveled.

Wesleyan (0-3) scored on its first possession of the second half when Goetz found Tyler Bezold for a layup, but No. 18 USI (3-0) responded in a big way -- putting together a 32-3 run over the next 10 minutes for a lead that was never in doubt.

The Screaming Eagles made 19-of-28 shots (67.9%) in the second half, including 6-of-9 from 3-point range, while the Panthers converted just 10-of-31 (32.3%) opportunities after the break.

For Wesleyan second-year coach Drew Cooper, it was a familiar sight.

"I'm tired of having good first halves," he said after the game. "We need to have a team full of guys that are tired of having good segments and showing signs. ... It's time to mature and figure that out.

"It's happened too many times in the last year. We've got to put into place why things are the way they are and sustain a certain type of urgency between the lines for 40 minutes, and we haven't done that yet this season."

Emmanuel Little finished with 22 points and eight rebounds to lead USI, which also got 15 points from Braden Fitzjerrells. Clayton Hughes and Josh Price chipped in 11 and 10 points, respectively.

Screaming Eagles coach Rodney Watson chalked up his team's first-half performance to the early jitters of opening a new arena.

"There were a lot of emotions," said Watson, who passed former USI coach Bruce Pearl for the school's all-time wins record with the victory. "I told our team that our name is on this game. ... It didn't surprise me that the game got a little weird at the start.

"The thing that bugged me about the start of the game is they were diving on the floor, and we weren't even getting after it. We were getting good, open looks, but we weren't making shots."

Though Goetz finished as KWC's lone double-digit scorer, the Panthers got additional scoring contributions from former Apollo High School standout Nathan Boyle (nine points), Erik Bell (seven points), Zach Hopewell (five points) and Nick Fort (five points).

"I'm happy for Nick Fort," Cooper said. "I'm happy for a guy like Zach Hopewell. I thought Erik Bell played great."

For the game, the Panthers shot 43.1% and made 9-of-30 3-pointers (30%) with 4-of-8 makes from the free-throw line (50%). They also won the scoring battle in the paint, 28-24.

USI finished with a 55% clip from the floor, including 8-of-22 from distance (36.4%), and made 8-of-13 foul shots (61.5%). The Screaming Eagles also claimed the edge in rebounding (37-30), second-chance scoring (16-2), points off turnovers (24-8) and fastbreak scoring (9-0).

KWC returns to action Wednesday to host Oakland City at the Sportscenter, and Cooper said he'll spend the next couple of days trying to sort out his team's struggles.

"Part of it is me figuring out the best rotations," he said. "Part of it is every guy showing up with a certain mentality every single night. If we can do that, we'll be alright."

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