Georgia Southern jumped out to a big first half lead but couldn’t hold on as South Alabama came storming back to take a 68-58 victory Saturday afternoon at Hanner Fieldhouse.
The Eagles (3-9) built an advantage that stretched as far as 39-24 just before halftime, but a 14-0 run by the Jaguars (4-5) got them right back into the game and South Alabama outscored GSU 42-19 in the second half to win going away.
"It all comes down to defense and rebounding," said GSU coach Charlton Young. "I thought that the Cincinnati game this week was what we needed to show our guys that we can’t be selfish and that we have to play defense.
"We did a pretty good job in the first half when we were playing defense right beside the bench and we could get on them. In the second half, they were on the other side of the floor and let the defensive effort get away a little bit."
Georgia Southern’s offense — or lack thereof — proved to be a game changer in the second half. The Eagles shot a scorching 60.8 percent from the field over the first 20 minutes, but managed just 20.8 percent in the second half as the Jaguars made their run.
Jelani Hewitt led the Eagles with 13 points while Ben Drayton and Eric Ferguson chipped in 12 and 10 points, respectively.
"Right now, we’re not an incredibly good shooting team," said Young. "We had some trouble getting to the basket in the second half and that hurt us."
South Alabama shot 45.1 percent from the field, but helped itself out by dominating the Eagles on the glass.
The Jaguars outrebounded GSU 41-27 – getting 18 from redshirt freshman Augustine Rubit - and grabbed 17 offensive boards, allowing for 12 second chance points.
"It can get discouraging," said Young. "A lot of times, we weren’t playing bad defense. But when you defend hard for 35 seconds and then let the opposing team get a rebound because we didn’t box out, it deflates your spirit a little."
It looked like things were going a lot smoother for GSU early on.
The two teams battled back and forth through the opening minutes, but the Eagles were able to rip off a 24-11 run over a span of 9:38 to put them up 34-21.
Sam Mike’s dunk at the 1:31 mark of the first half pushed the Eagle advantage to 39-24, but DeAndre Hersey hit a layup just before the buzzer to make the score 39-26 at the break and begin the South Alabama run that was the game’s turning point.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.