Furman’s defense made for a brutal second half for Georgia Southern and the gap in the last 20 minutes just kept getting wider as the Lady Paladins got their first Southern Conference victory and left Hanner Fieldhouse with a 56-42 win on Wednesday.
The smothering defense of Furman (5-8, 1-3 SoCon) held the Eagles to only 14 points in the second half. Georgia Southern (2-12, 1-3) scored only two points in the final 5 minutes, 58 seconds of the game.
The Eagles shot just 25.8 percent from the floor and made only 1 of 13 3-point attempts.
"I thought for a while, we tried really hard to take it to the rim and make plays," said first-year GSU coach Chris Vozab. "When we weren’t completing those plays, after a while, I thought we got a little frantic and lost a little bit of composure."
Furman finished the game with seven steals and six blocked shots. Most of the offense came from the post, where Brittany Hodges led the Paladins with 11 points. Furman scored 22 points in the paint.
The Eagles were led by MiMi Dubose (11 points) and freshman forward Sierra Kirkland, who scored a career-best 10 points off the bench and grabbed seven rebounds.
"These coaches have really been helping me mature and play the game at the college level," said Kirkland, a former Statesboro Blue Devil. "They’ve tried to progress me to where I need to be to help the team."
The Paladins forced GSU’s game inside, and aside from DuBose, the guards struggled. Anna Claire Knight (6 points) shot just 3 of 15 from the floor, and Knight, Alexis Sams Meredyth Frye and Kiki Rawls combined for only six points.
The post game, led by Kirkland, got 22 points for the Eagles, but Furman held GSU to just one basket in the last 10:49.
Neither team shot the ball well — Furman was 38.2 percent from the field — and the rebound battle got physical with the Paladins taking a slight 43-42 edge.
"I thought we did a great job crashing the boards — our effort was tremendous — but on the same token, when we grabbed the rebound we were in such a rush to put it back up," Vozab said. "We didn’t take that extra half second to gather ourselves and take the opportunity to finish, or maybe get to the line."
Frye put back an offensive rebound to cut it to 46-42 with less than 6 minutes remaining, but the Paladins closed out the game with the final 10 points.
The Eagles shot the ball 62 times, but only made 16 shots from the floor.
"(Furman) got to a point where they didn’t think we could score every time we took it into the paint," Kirlkland said, "so we tried to prove them wrong as post players."
Forward Danielle Spencer scored eight points and was perfect shooting the ball, going 3 for 3 from the floor and 2 for 2 at the free-throw line.
The first half saw the teams exchange blows from the opening tip, with four ties and eight lead changes as the squads battles for separation.
Furman had its largest lead of the half 12 minutes in, when a 3 by Kaitlin Murphy gave the Paladins an 18-12 advantage.
A quick, 7-0 run put the Eagles back in front after DuBose banked in the only GSU 3 and was fouled in the process. She converted at the line to put the Eagles up 19-18.
Both teams missed five of their first six shot attempts, but Kirkland came off the bench to give the Eagles a spark by scoring six of the next nine GSU points.
In the last six minutes of the period, each basket marked a lead change until DuBose made a layup and put the Eagles ahead, 25-22. A Frye free throw made it 26-22, but Furman scored the last six points of the half — all in the final minute, to take a 28-26 lead into the break.
Georgia Southern – which has played 10 of its first 14 games away from Hanner this season, goes back on the road for two more games, facing the Chattanooga Mocs on Saturday at 6 p.m., in Chattanooga, Tenn., followed by a trip to Samford at 8 p.m.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.