Georgia Southern overcame a big deficit early on Thursday, only to lose its grip on a win late in the game. The Eagles faced a similar situation with UT Arlington in town on Saturday, but were determined not to let history repeat itself
The Eagles trailed by as much as 21-8 through the first eight minutes of play, but they closed the gap by halftime, took their first lead early in the second half and did everything necessary down the stretch to post a 74-59 victory and stop a two-game losing streak.
“Things were different tonight,” GS coach Mark Byington said. “On Thursday, we weren’t playing well. There were a bunch of areas where we just didn’t get it done. Tonight, we were playing against a good team who made some shots, but we played well and played with confidence and got some big shots late.”
Tookie Brown scored 15 of his team-high 23 points in the second half, including a banked in 3-pointer under duress and with the shot clock winding down to put Georgia Southern (15-7, 6-3 Sun Belt) up 57-46 at the 6:00 mark. Brown also made his presence known on defense, swatting an Erick Neal (11 points) fastbreak layup attempt with just over four minutes to go to sustain a three-possession lead for the Eagles.
Quan Jackson buried a 3 soon after to regain a double-digit lead for the Eagles and Jake Allsmiller — usually the team’s deadliest deep threat, but mired in a two-game slump — put an exclamation point on the night with a deep 3 to stake GS to a 66-55 lead with under three minutes to go.
“Quan hit a couple of big shots for us tonight,” Byington said. “He did a good job of picking up minutes earlier in the season when Ike was hurt and he has continued to show that he can help us every night.”
The Eagles couldn’t quite make it a blowout as the Mavericks (13-10, 4-6) stayed within shouting distance down the stretch, but Hanner Fieldhouse felt comfortable shifting into celebration mode as the final two minutes ticked away.
It could have been a runaway win for Georgia Southern if not for another superb effort by reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year Kevin Hervey.
Arlington’s senior star lead all scorers with 29 points, but needed 23 attempts from the field to reach that mark and didn’t get enough help from his supporting cast.
“Hervey made some ridiculous shots to get them ahead early,” Byington said. “That’s the sort of thing he’s going to do to you. But I thought we played solid defense. We did what we could (with Hervey) and we were able to force some turnovers on passes, which I thought was a big part of this win.”
Jackson (12 points), Mike Hughes (11) and Ike Smith (10) joined Brown in double-digit scoring for the Eagles.
Montae Glenn’s four points and six rebounds were a tick below his season average, but those numbers had less to do with his effort and more to do with the six points and four rebounds provided by Shawn O’Connell over 12 quality minutes to give the Eagles a solid frontcourt presence throughout the night.
“Shawn has had a great week,” Byington said. “He got a big tip-in and some big rebounds tonight. We have a lot of guys who have been through this stretch and have played in big games. That’s the kind of team play we need.”
Better defensive stats and a more consistent inside game have highlighted this year’s Eagle squad, but much of the offensive threat still comes from a deep pool of long-range shooters.
Georgia Southern hit on an astoundingly low 2-of-21 attempts from behind the arc in Thursday’s loss. Part of the Eagles’ early deficit on Saturday was due to an 0-for-7 start from long range, but hitting on 9 of their final 17 — including a 3-for-3 clip by Jackson — swung the momentum in Southern’s favor and paved the way to a much-needed win.
“We had a tough one on Thursday,” Brown said. “But we just keep working. It’s tough when shots aren’t falling, but we believe in each other and hitting a few of those shots gets everyone going.”
The Eagles’ quick homestand is already over and the team will try to build its momentum during a road trip through the ‘Natural State’ as they take on Little Rock on Thursday before travelling to Arkansas State next weekend.