Once again, Georgia Southern dug out of a huge halftime hole, but once again couldn’t pull out an elusive Southern Conference win.
Furman led 42-23 at halftime and the Eagles closed the gap to 60-54 with more than five minutes remaining, but the Paladins slammed the door on the run and left Hanner Fieldhouse with a 74-56 win Saturday afternoon.
“Our young pups are playing better,” said GSU coach Charlton Young. “They’re playing better. I hurt for them that it’s not showing up on the scoreboard. We’ve got to find a way to play more than 30 minutes. If I was to guess – and I haven’t looked at the film yet – but I would say we competed for 28 minutes. The first 10 or 12 minutes of the game, we put ourselves in such a big hole that it’s hard to get back in the game and it’s hard to finish.”
Furman (12-5, 4-2 SoCon) finished the game the same way it started, by knocking down 3-pointers and keeping GSU off of the scoreboard.
Six-straight points by Rory Spencer closed the gap to within six with 5:23 remaining after a pair of free throws, but Furman answered immediately on the other end when Justin Dehm drilled a 3 to extend the FU lead to 63-54.
Junior point guard Ben Drayton led the Eagles (4-15, 0-6) with 16 points, but picked up his fourth foul with 7:54 to go, leaving ball-handling duties in the hands of true freshman Jelani Hewitt.
“If Ben Drayton picks up his fifth foul with five minutes left, that’s tough,” said Young. “We had to try and protect him down the stretch. I don’t know if him getting in foul trouble or us giving up 3s hurt the most.”
The previous season high for 3-pointers allowed by the Eagles was 12 in a 103-79 loss to Texas Tech on Nov. 23, but the Paladins scored 39 points from long distance, hitting 13 of 26 attempts from behind the arc.
Dehm, Darryl Evans and senior forward Amu Saaka each went 3 for 5 from 3-point range. Saaka, the team’s leading scorer entering the game, led Furman with 21 points. Evans and Dehm each added 14.
The Paladins didn’t miss a shot from the floor until 11:04 remained in the first half, and didn’t commit a foul until 10:25 remained before the break.
In the span, FU built a 22-4 lead as it shot 7 for 7 from the floor and hit five-consecutive 3s to start the contest. The Eagles couldn’t by a bucket in the early minutes, making only one of their first seven field-goal attempts.
By the time things started to even out, Furman had a 19-point advantage. The Paladins finished the game shooting 52.3 percent from the floor, while the Eagles’ shot just 25 percent from long distance and 36.4 percent overall.
Spencer went 5 for 6 from the charity stripe and scored 13 points, and sophomore walkon Zuri James got all 12 of his points from behind the arc, shooting 4 of 12 from three-point range.
The Eagles head on the road for two games, beginning with UNC Greensboro Thursday at 7 p.m.
“We’ve got to find a way to put 40 minutes together,” said Young. “We’ve got 12 conference games left, and we want to try to put a couple of wins together and scare some people, get in the mix. We’re not accepting where we are just because we’re young.”
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.