AIKEN - Whatever USC Aiken women's coach Phil Stern said to his Lady Pacers at Wednesday morning's shoot-around worked against North Florida.
The Lady Pacers jumped out to a 39-25 halftime lead over the Lady Ospreys and cruised the rest of the way to a 71-50 victory. Aiken is off to its best start in Peach Belt play since the 1991-92 season when they opened with a 4-0 mark.
With the victory Wednesday, Stern's group improves to 2-0 in conference play and 8-4 overall. Julie Szabo and Jami Cornwell lit up North Florida for 52 points, with Szabo contributing 27.
"Coach really got on us at the shoot-around," Szabo said. "We had to come out and forget about the win over Francis Marion. We knew North Florida had a good team, and we couldn't let up. It was just a good night. We had everybody clicking on the same page at the same time."
Szabo hit 4-of-9 from 3-point range and was a red hot 11-of-12 from the free throw line. Behind Cornwell's 27 points Saturday, the Lady Pacers knocked off Francis Marion 75-64. On Wednesday, the sophomore remained hot, grabbing a team-high six rebounds and two steals.
Meanwhile, North Florida (6-5 overall, 0-1 Peach Belt) never got on track. Skye Barber, the team's leading scorer at 17.8 points per game, was held to just six points in 24 minutes of action. The Lady Pacers were again without much help from 3-point specialist Janell Gerk, who suffered a sprained ankle last week.
Gerk had started 37 straight games and was averaging 10.7 points per game this season. The senior saw just five minutes of action against North Florida.
"Janell hasn't played so we've asked Julie and Jami to step it up for us," Stern said. "They're two players that can put a team on their backs and take over. We did a good job of getting them shots they're supposed to make. We definitely won the game defensively. Dana (Richter) did a tremendous job as usual."
In the men's game, scoring wasn't a priority down the stretch for the Pacers as they scored only two field goals in the final 12 minutes, but held on for the 62-53 victory over the Ospreys to remain unbeaten in conference play.
Aiken improves to 2-0 in the conference and 7-4 overall. North Florida drops to 6-5 overall and 0-1 in the conference.
The last time USC Aiken started 2-0 in the conference was the 1995-96 season. On Wednesday, the Pacers went on a 12-0 run to take the lead for good in the first half after Areon Atkinson nailed a 3-pointer to make it 14-12 with 13:26 left.
Atkinson finished with a team-high 16 points, but Aiken led just 34-32 at the end the half, hampered by 17 points from North Florida's Koran Godwin.
"I told them, if he scores another 17 points, we'll lose," Mike Roberts said of his halftime speech. "We were able to get some key stops and turnovers in the second half and that was big. And we had some guys step up for us. Michael Tyler was big, very focused tonight."
Tyler finished with 15 points off the bench, seeing more time as Dain Brown and Art Salary both suffered injuries during the game.
Aiken shot out of halftime with a 9-0 run to take a 43-32 lead after a Chris Robinson jumper. Robinson finished with 14 points. And while the Pacers were heating up, the Ospreys were cooling off, not able to get many good looks at the basket.
North Florida managed just one field in the first 11 minutes and only four in the second half. After shooting 8-of-9 from the floor in the first half, Godwin was blanketed, and shot just 1-of-5 in the second, finishing with 23 points.
Reach Patrick Green at (803) 648-1395.