Georgia Southern has made a habit of playing flat in the first half, only to mount thrilling comeback wins throughout the season.
Facing UT Arlington Thursday night, the Eagles came out of the gate hot, but let a big lead wane before halftime and then saw it all slip away in the final minutes as the Mavericks notched a 72-67 victory at Hanner Fieldhouse.
UT Arlington (9-11, 5-2 Sun Belt) hit on eight of nine field goal attempts down the stretch and led by as much as 67-61. The Eagles (12-8, 4-3) clawed back to within a point, but a missed free throw by Simeon Carter at the 3-minute mark kept Georgia Southern from tying the game and the Eagles missed their final six attempts from the field as they came up short on a chance to sweep the season series from UTA.
“In the second half, we quit playing defense and put too much pressure on our offense,” GS coach Mark Byington said. “It’s tough when it’s a game that could have gone either way, but probably one we didn’t deserve to win.”
Radshad Davis scored 10 of his 11 points in the second half to lead the Maverick comeback. UTA was led by David Azore’s 15 points and followed up by Brian Warren, who scored 14.
Georgia Southern got a balanced effort as Tookie Brown led the way with 11 points while Isaiah Crawley, Montae Glenn, Quan Jackson and David Lee Jones all scored 10. Crawley notched a double-double by pulling down 11 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough.
The second half was a huge turning point in the shooting fortunes for each team.
The Mavericks could hardly aim straight over the first 20 minutes as they shot just 29 percent from the floor. But they were able to get to the free throw line and make 8-of-10 in that span to stay within reach before shooting a blistering 55.5 percent clip in the second half to mount their comeback.
“Whether it was not rotating or picking up bad fouls, we just weren’t getting it done defensively,” Byington said.
Meanwhile, the Eagles couldn’t find a finishing kick.
Georgia Southern led by as many as 13 points at the 17-minute mark, but got aggressive with its 3-point shooting and made just 2-of-11 from beyond the mark as its lead vanished. Playing against a stingy UTA zone, the Eagles weren’t able to penetrate into the paint for easy buckets. They also weren’t able to draw fouls and get to the line — and when they did, a 4-of-9 performance from the charity stripe only hurt them further.
“The biggest thing is that we got out-toughed,” Byington said. “They were beating us to loose balls and rebounds and that made a big difference.
“We’re doing a lot of things right, but we can’t afford to not be the tougher team and that’s something we’ll address.”
With the loss, the Eagles will miss out an a chance to play for first place in the Sun Belt. The Eagles could have avenged a loss and pulled into a tie at the top of the standings when Texas State visits Hanner Fieldhouse for a 5 p.m. tip Saturday evening. Instead, Texas State is two games clear of Georgia Southern while Georgia State and UT Arlington sit a game back in second place.