AIKEN --- A demanding Peach Belt Conference schedule calls for USC Aiken to play four conference games over a seven-day period. The brutal stretch began Monday night, and the Pacers appeared ready for the challenge in a 77-48 blowout over Georgia Southwestern.
"We were anxious to get back on the floor," senior Seth Leonard said after the team spent the past 21/2 weeks away from the court.
"We always want to send a message."
The message to the remaining three teams on the week-long schedule and the rest of the Peach Belt Conference couldn't have been plainer. The young Pacers squad has improved since its conference-opening loss to Francis Marion. There won't be a letdown.
"It was very important not only for the spectators or the conference, but for ourselves," USC Aiken coach Vince Alexander said.
The potential letdown after the break never materialized for the Pacers, who combined 54.4 percent shooting with a high-energy zone defense.
The result was seen instantly as the visiting Hurricanes couldn't keep up, managing just 14 points in the first half on 5 of 19 (26.3 percent) shooting.
"Defensively it was the best I've seen in a long time," Alexander said. "And I can say that going back several years."
The zone defense, with a few surprises mixed in, turned a 4-2 Hurricane lead into a Pacer blowout early. After taking the two-point advantage, Georgia Southwestern went six minutes without a point and saw its lead turn into a 12-4 deficit.
Byron Faison scored 13 of his game-high 20 in the first half with a perfect 5 for 5 shooting from the field.
The 42-14 lead at halftime grew to as much as 39 points in the second half, and the rout allowed nine Pacers to see at least 16 minutes of playing time each.
The USC Aiken bench produced 35 points, including Faison's 20 on 7 of 9 shooting from the field and three 3-pointers and 10 points from forward Kevin Willis. Alexander said it was a testament to how deep his team is offensively.
"I like those guys in those roles because it gives us two starters off the bench," he said. "And they don't care (about coming off the bench). They just want to win."
Leonard, who played only eight minutes in the second half, finished with 17 points on 8 of 12 shooting and guard Mark Brown added 11.
Georgia Southwestern, playing in its first conference game, went 0 for 15 from the 3-point line. Forward Chris Rawls came off the bench to lead the Hurricanes with 19 points and a trio of alley-oop dunks.