Nothing is coming easy for any team in the Sun Belt as the conference standings remain up for grabs in the final weeks of the regular season, but Georgia Southern did its part to help itself out Wednesday evening as it notched a 75-65 victory over South Alabama at Hanner Fieldhouse.
The Eagles (15-10, 7-5 Sun Belt) looked as if they might make it a quick night.
An alley-oop from Tookie Brown to Simeon Carter made it a 42-27 Georgia Southern lead at halftime and Brown found Isaiah Crawley on a nearly identical play to begin the second half and get the Hanner crowd on its feet.
The Eagles led by as many as 17, but South Alabama (12-13, 5-7) never gave in and pulled to within four points before the Eagles delivered a knockout punch.
“We were locked in and played tremendous in the first half,” GS coach Mark Byington said. “We played out of character early in the second half and let them back in it, but I give our guys credit. We settled back into the game and played tough down the stretch to get a win.”
It was a balanced effort for the Eagles as Tookie Brown and Calvin Wishart tied for the team lead with 14 points each while Quan Jackson netted 13 and Montae Glenn threw in another 10.
Brown has played more of a facilitating role in many games this season and only had three points as the Jaguars were mounting their run. But the Eagles’ senior leader took over when his team needed it most.
With the Eagles clinging to a four-point margin at the 8:30 mark, Brown drove the lane. He pulled up after being poked in the eye, but the officials called a travel instead and handed the ball to South Alabama. Brown responded with a steal and a dunk, the first two points of what proved to be a one-man 6-0 run for Georgia Southern.
The play slowed in the final minutes as neither offense could break through zone defending, but Brown stayed hot, ultimately scoring 11 of the Eagles’ final 15 points.
“My favorite Tookie is angry Tookie,” Byington said. “It was unfortunate that he got that travel call against him, but I think it ended up working out for us.”
“When Tookie starts playing with that fire, you just let him go,” Jackson said. “I just went into the corner in case he needed to pass to me and let him do it for us.”
Brown stopped the bleeding and mounted the winning charge for Georgia Southern, but there were plenty of others who contributed to the victory.
Glenn and Carter ground out tough points and rebounds against the USA zone while Jackson was able to catch and penetrate quickly anytime the zone wasn’t set up.
The Eagles also got a huge night from one of their youngest players.
True freshman Calvin Wishart tied Brown for the team high with 14 points and connected on a career-high four 3-pointers. He also hauled in seven rebounds to lead all Eagles and ripped away a pair of steals to kill USA momentum during its second half run.
“I just wanted to do my part,” Wishart said. “I know we’ve got older guys on the team, but we don’t look at it like that. We’re all out there together trying to win.”
Georgia Southern will be on the national stage Friday night as it returns to Hanner Fieldhouse to host Troy in a 9 p.m. tipoff set to air on ESPN2.