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Eagles survive and advance
ferguson good pic
Georgia Southern forward Eric Ferguson goes up for two of his game-high 17 points as the Eagles defeated Wofford in the first round of the Southern Conference men's basketball tournament in Asheville, N.C. Friday. - photo by

    ASHEVILLE, N.C. — After Eric Ferguson limped into the post-game press conference on Friday at the U.S. Cellular Center with his knee wrapped in ice, he said he felt like he was playing at about 50 percent.
    Half was good enough.

    Ferguson led all scorers with 17 points, and the No. 9 seeded Georgia Southern Eagles cruised past Wofford, 60-44, in the first round of the Southern Conference tournament.
    The Eagles (14-18) out-rebounded the Terriers, 40-28, and though they didn’t shoot the ball particularly well — they hit 4 of 13 3-point attempts and went just 21 of 56 from the floor — Wofford never found its rhythm.
    “We’re an extremely streaky shooting basketball team,” GSU coach Charlton Young said, “and we’ve got to hang out hats on defense and rebounding.”
    The Eagles’ three starting guards — C.J. Reed, Tre Bussey and Cleon Roberts — combined for 23 rebounds.
    “It’s a pretty simple game,” Wofford coach Mike Young said. “They out-worked us. Charlton out-coached me. They out-rebounded us, out-scrapped us, got to a majority of 50-50 balls, and that’s it for this team this particular year. A great deal of credit goes to Georgia Southern.”
    The icing on the cake came when Reed tossed an alley-oop to Ferguson, who slammed it home with two hands late in the second half. Ferguson played 32 minutes and started for the first time since Feb. 9.
    “I hyper-extended (the knee) last year, and it’s just been wear and tear,” Ferguson said. “Coming off the bench has let me try and get momentum, but the coaches said I was going to start, so I’m going to start, fight through the pain and don’t worry about it.”
    Wofford (13-19) never closed the gap to within double digits in the second half. Point guard Indiana Faithfull (10 points) hit a 3 to make it 42-32 with 10 minutes, 59 seconds remaining, but GSU responded with a 7-2 run to put the game out of reach.
    It was a monster, 14-0 run by GSU that closed the first half and put the win in the Eagles’ hands.
    Spencer Collins (10 points) put Wofford ahead, 18-16, when he missed a jumper from 17 feet, but followed his shot for a putback in the paint with 7:13 remaining in the half.
    It was the last time the Terriers scored before halftime.
    Five of Wofford’s six first-half turnovers came during the GSU run, and the Terriers closed the half by missing their last seven shots.
    Meanwhile, GSU got 3s from Reed and Roberts – the latter coming on a dish from Reed — and another long basket with Reed’s foot on the line.
    It was a back-and-forth affair for much of the first half. Georgia Southern didn’t trail until there was 8:58 remaining in the period, when Faithfull scored under the basket to put the Terriers ahead, 16-14.
    Wofford’s leading scorer on the season, Karl Cochran, was a non-factor. He came into the game averaging 16 points, but scored only four on Friday. He was 0 for 5 from 3-point land and 2 of 10 from the floor.
    Georgia Southern’s next opponent likely won’t have as much trouble scoring. The Eagles face No. 1 seed Davidson (23-7, 17-1 SoCon) today at noon. The Wildcats’ lone conference loss of the season came at the hands of GSU, but the return trip was a different story. The regular season came to an end when Davidson pounded the Eagles, 83-48.
    “Whoever loses is going home, and we don’t want it to be us,” Charlton Young said. “I think our guys will be a little angry about what happened (at the end of the regular season).”
NOTES: Georgia Southern won its opening game of the SoCon tournament for the second-straight year. Prior to that, the Eagles went four seasons without a win in the tournament. … The Eagles improved to 14-19 all time in tournament play. … Georgia Southern has won two games in the SoCon tournament only once. In 2001, the Eagles beat Virginia Military Institute and East Tennessee State back to back before losing to Chattanooga in the semifinals. … The Eagles have never played in the SoCon championship game. … GSU is 2-0 against Wofford in tournament games. … Georgia Southern is the only opponent Wofford beat twice during the regular season. … Davidson and GSU have met only once in SoCon tournament history. The Wildcats won, 74-68, in 1998.

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