First half hurts Eagles in loss against Racers

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EVANSVILLE, Ind.¬†‚Äď University of Southern Indiana Women’s Basketball returned home to Screaming Eagles Arena on Friday night, where graduate guard¬†Tori Handley¬†(Jeffersonville, Indiana) scored a career-high 16 points and junior guard¬†Vanessa Shafford¬†(Linton, Indiana) posted her second double-double of the season, but it was not enough as the Screaming Eagles fell to Murray State University, 93-73.

The two teams matched in the opening minutes, exchanging baskets in the first four and a half minutes toward an early 6-6 score. Then Murray State built a lead in the middle of the first quarter, 15-8, but Southern Indiana battled back to within one possession. USI senior forward Meredith Raley (Haubstadt, Indiana) got off to a good start in the game, earning six points in the first quarter off opportunistic looks inside. In a hectic, physical finish to the first quarter, Murray State took a 20-14 advantage into the second stanza.

Murray State had a fast start to the second, increasing their lead to 11, 25-14. Despite a spurt in the middle of the second with tallies from Raley, Shafford, and senior forward¬†Madi Webb¬†(Bedford, Indiana), the Racers’ offense continued to click while getting stops on the defensive end. In the back half of the second frame, Murray State went on a 12-0 run to take a 48-24 lead, holding USI scoreless for nearly four minutes. The Eagles snapped the drought with a jumper from Webb. Before the first-half buzzer, sophomore guard¬†Ali Saunders¬†(Depauw, Indiana) knocked down a jump shot to beat the horn. After shooting over 60 percent in the second quarter, Murray State led 49-28 going into the halftime locker room.

Southern Indiana came out of the break with a triple from Shafford and a bucket by Webb. Webb crossed over into double figures scoring during the third quarter. After seven threes in the first half, Murray State’s hot shooting resumed after halftime with another pair of treys, giving the Racers a 58-37 lead at the 6:23 mark of the third. However, the Eagles still had a strong quarter going, shooting over 44 percent in the third and receiving solid minutes from the bench. Inside the final minute of the third, freshman forward¬†Chloe Gannon¬†(Manchester, Tennessee) ran the floor and scored a wide-open layup after a couple of connection passes down the court. The Racers carried a 67-45 advantage into the fourth quarter.

Gannon continued her strong minutes into the start of the fourth, tallying two consecutive makes for the Eagles. Later in the fourth period, Shafford crossed into double digits in the scoring and rebounding column toward her second double-double of the season and seventh of her career. Down the stretch, Handley caught fire, drilling three triples toward 12 fourth-quarter points and a career best for the game. Despite USI shooting over 52 percent and outscoring the Racers in the fourth period, Murray State maintained its cushion toward the win.

Southern Indiana’s second-half shooting put USI at nearly 43 percent (32-75) overall for the game with six three-pointers. USI outrebounded Murray State, 47-45, and outscored the Racers in the paint, 40-32. Handley’s 16 points led the Eagles. Webb totaled 14 points, and Shafford posted 11 points and 10 rebounds in the double-double effort. Saunders, who also had a nice scoring stretch late, recorded eight points alongside Raley and Gannon.

Even though Murray State’s offense cooled off in the second half, the Racers shot over 44 percent (33-74) from the floor with 13 threes. Five players scored 10 or more for Murray State, including a game-high 17 points from senior forward Katelyn Young.

Friday was the third consecutive setback for USI, who moves to 3-3 on the season. Murray State went to 4-2 with the victory.