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Eagles advance to SoCon quarterfinals with drubbing of Furman
Jelani Hewitt lays one off the glass for a bucket in Georgia Southern's 65-50 win over Furman on Friday in the first round of the Southern Conference basketball tournament at the U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville, N.C. (SoCon Photos) - photo by SoCon Photos

    ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- The Georgia Southern Eagles came to play. The Furman Paladins, well, they were there too.

    By the time an Angel Matias steal turned into a one-handed Jelani Hewitt slam dunk on the other end of the floor, Furman had checked out.

    The Eagles went on to get opening round win on Friday in the Southern Conference tournament at the U.S. Cellular Center, beating Furman 65-50.

    It wasn’t that close.

    The Eagles (14-18) dominated just about every statistical category, including a 34-23 edge in rebounding, and never trailed. They tallied 13 steals and 10 assists, and got scoring from everywhere, including forwards Marvin Baynham and Kyle Doyle, who combined for 15 points and 15 rebounds.

    “We had guys step up, and we need them,” GSU coach Mark Byington said. “We’re not a deep team, so we need everybody to play well.”

    Furman (9-21) didn’t score until 13 minutes, 46 seconds remained in the first half, and the Eagles (14-18) took an early 21-11 lead on a Tre Bussey 3-pointer.

    “They came out and played extremely hard and were ready to compete on both ends of the floor,” Furman coach Niko Medved said about the Eagles. “They really kind of dictated the game to us from the beginning.”

    Furman had a pair of bright spots in Stephen Croone (12 points) and the team’s lone senior, Charlie Reddick (18).

    “I told him I’m really disappointed for him, how it ended, but he can be proud because he gave his all today,” Medved said about Reddick. “I wish it would have went better for him.”

    Hewitt’s dunk came with 13:20 remaining in the game and put GSU ahead 49-29.

    “We didn’t hit shots, we didn’t execute well, and they just kept scoring and scoring. It caused everyone to be less aggressive,” Croon said.

    Bussey, a GSU senior playing out his final games as an Eagle, scored 14 points including 2 of 3 from behind the arc.

    “It’s always fun playing with  your brothers,” Bussey said. “Blood wouldn’t make us any closer, and it’s fun playing with your family.”

    Hewitt, the SoCon’s leading scorer and the No. 25 scorer in the nation, scored 20 points from just about everywhere on the floor, including two fast-break dunks, a 3, and an assortment of reverse layups and 12-foot jumpers.

    Hewitt also had 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals, and didn’t commit a turnover.

    Hewitt and Bussey both spoke about the team’s seniors; Bussey, Baynham, Sam Mike and point guard Brian Holmes.

    “This is their last hurrah,” Hewitt said, “and I’m going to leave it all out there on the floor for them.”

    Georgia Southern will face No. 2 seed Chattanooga (18-13) at 6 p.m., today, for a trip to the semifinals.

    The teams met only once during the regular season, with the Eagles winning 77-61 on Feb. 20, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

NOTES: The Eagles went 3-0 on the year against Furman. … Georgia Southern is now 15-21 all-time in Southern Conference tournament games. … Chattanooga had a 10-game winning streak going midway through the season, but lost five of its last 9 games leading up to the tournament.

Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.