Panthers face tough task at USI

Photo by Greg Eans, | Kentucky Wesleyan’s Tyler Bezold passes around Urbana University’s Caiden Smith during the Panthers’ loss Saturday at the Owensboro Sportscenter.

Kentucky Wesleyan's men's basketball team faces a tall task on Monday, venturing to Evansville for a battle against longtime rival and perennial NCAA Division II power Southern Indiana.

Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. for what will be USI's first home-opener at all-new 4,800-seat Screaming Eagles Arena.

"What we need to do is go over there and put 40 minutes together," second-year KWC coach Drew Cooper said. "We have not put 40 minutes together in a game yet.

"USI is a very good team, and this is a game that's going to test us, but it's also another opportunity for us to improve and become a better basketball team."

KWC (0-2) is coming off a disappointing home-opening 56-53 setback to Urbana on Saturday at the Sportscenter. The Panthers twice led by 11 points in that contest, but the Blue Knights were able to rally late for the victory.

In that game, the Panthers were led by 6-foot-7 junior forward Mohamed Abu Arishi, who had team-highs of 17 points and seven rebounds. Jo Griffin, a 6-1 junior guard, added 12 points and 6-3 senior forward Tyler Bezold climbed off the bench to score 11.

"We have to train ourselves to evolve with a tough-mindedness," Cooper said. "And, we've got to find ways to score the ball. We're not getting the most that we can out of some of our personnel."

Against Urbana, Cooper went with a starting lineup of Abu Arisha, Griffin, Ben Sisson, Erik Bell and Adam Goetz.

Wesleyan, attempting to avoid an 0-3 start, opened the season with a 90-51 loss to another current NCAA D-2 power, third-ranked Bellarmine, last Wednesday at Knights Hall in Louisville.

Veteran coach Rodney Watson's Southern Indiana squad (2-0) opened regular season play with a 82-73 victory at Hillsdale on Nov. 8, and the following day blasted Malone 83-56 at Hillsdale.

The 18th-ranked Screaming Eagles are led by 6-6 junior forward Emmanuel Little, who averages 22.5 points and 7 rebounds game. Other key players for USI include 6-3 senior guard Joe Laravie (17.5 ppg), 6-5 junior forward Clayton Hughes (10 ppg) and 6-8, 250-pound junior forward Josh Price (9 ppg, 8 rpg).

Through two games, Southern Indiana is shooting 54% from the field, including 52% accuracy from 3-point range. The Eagles are also draining 83% of their free throws, while outrbounding their opposition by 12 per game.

Monday's game mark's the first time KWC and USI have battled on the hardwood in over two years. The Screaming Eagles won a 88-75 decision on Nov. 4, 2017 at the Ford Center in Evansville.

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