Georgia Southern led the game for 39 minutes and 43 seconds, but UNC Greensboro led when it mattered — the end.
With just 17 seconds left, Spartans forward Aaron Brackett knocked down a 12-foot, baseline jumper to put the Spartans ahead 57-56, and that was where it stayed as GSU fell Thursday at Hanner Fieldhouse.
“All year we’ve been behind – fighting and scrapping to get back into games – and finally we had a lead where we needed to run some clock, take care of the ball and hit some free throws. To be honest, we looked like a deer in the headlights,” said GSU coach Charlton Young. “Things that we normally do instinctively, we panicked.”
Georgia Southern called a timeout with seven seconds remaining, and after the inbound to Ben Drayton, who got the ball into the post, Eric Ferguson missed a short jumper for the last attempt of the game.
The Eagles (5-26, 1-16 Southern Conference) led by as many as 13 and led 27-16 at the half after starting the game on a 13-4 run.
UNCG (6-22, 6-11) stayed with the Eagles on the back of guard Brandon Evans, who scored 10 of his 20 points at the free-throw line.
It was Evans who hit a pair of free throws with 1:04 remaining to cut the GSU lead to 52-51.
Rory Spencer (11 points) answered at the other end with an old-fashioned three-point play to put the Eagles up 55-51.
Two more free throws by Evans on the other end made it 55-53, and Jelani Hewitt converted 1 of 2 free-throw attempts to put the GSU lead back at three.
“We needed a game like this heading into the [SoCon] tournament,” said Young, “but to be brutally honest, we needed to win a game like this. It was a knock in the face, but we look tremendously better.”
That was when everything started going right for UNCG, and everything went wrong for the Eagles.
“I’m proud of the way we played for 38 minutes,” added Young, “but I’m disappointed we couldn’t close it.”
Evans hit a layup with 26 seconds left to cut it to 56-55, and on the ensuing inbound, the Eagles had trouble getting it in. On the verge of a five-second violation, Ferguson looked for Drayton with the home run ball, and Greensboro’s Kyle Randall corralled it on the other end of the court. He charged back to the other end and found Brackett for the eventual game winner.
Spencer led GSU’s scorers, and Drayton and Ferguson each added 10.
Trevis Simpson, the Spartans’ second-leading scorer behind Evans, added 13 points.
UNC Greensboro made 18 of its 23 tries at the foul line and 13 of 14 in the second half, and the Eagles left nine points on the table, shooting 10 for 19 from the charity stripe in the game.
Georgia Southern closes out the season Saturday at Hanner against Elon at 7:30 p.m. after the Lady Eagles host their regular-season finale at 5 p.m. against Furman.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.