Men's Basketball: Dominating second half carries Panthers past Methodist 97-79 in USA South opener

Men's Basketball: Dominating second half carries Panthers past Methodist 97-79 in USA South opener

LaGrange dominated the second half to beat Methodist 97-79 in Mariotti Gym on Saturday. The game was the USA South opener for both teams.

The Panthers wiped out a five-point halftime deficit to improve to 7-1 on the season. The Monarchs slipped to 4-5 overall.

"We evidently forgot that we need to defend the other team during a basketball game," said Coach Kendal Wallace. "Our coaching staff reminded them at halftime that in order to reach our goals, we must defend.

"I'm proud of our three seniors who led us in the second half. We also got valuable minutes from Justyn (Olson), Duncan (Parker) and Elijah (Adedoyin)."

Seniors Mark Wagner and Braxton Ford combined for 50 points. Wagner scored 19 of his game-high 27 points in the second half, while Ford finished with 23 in the game. Olson added 14 points, 12 coming in the second half.

Saturday's game was a tale of two halves. The first half was tied on eight occasions and the lead changed hands six times.

Methodist broke a 39-39 tie with five straight points to end the half. Davion Ayabarreno's three-pointer from just inside the midcourt line at the buzzer gave the Monarchs a 44-39 lead.

Wagner's 3-pointer ignited a 14-0 run in the opening minutes of the second half. After Ford's layup tied the game at 46, Wagner turned two straight Monarch turnovers into points and a 50-46 lead. 

Ford's trey and a jumper from Adedoyin made it 55-46. Olson drained a 3-pointer to give the Panthers a double-digit lead, 60-49, with 13:15 remaining.

Tyler Langston hit a 3 of his own as the Panthers' lead swelled to 76-57 with 8:10 left. The Monarchs never got closer than 11 the rest of the way. Wagner's three free throws gave the Panthers their largest lead, 93-72, with 2:27 remaining. 

After shooting 38.2 percent in the first half, the Panthers caught fire after the break. They hit 62.9 percent in the second half, including 6-of-8 from 3-point range. 

The Panthers are off to a 7-1 start for the first time since the 2011-12 season. They have won six straight heading into the Daytona Beach Shootout next Sunday and Monday.

The Panthers will face Lynchburg on Sunday and Eastern Connecticut, who was preseason ranked No. 14, on Monday.