In what was Furman’s last trip to Hanner Fieldhouse for a Southern Conference matchup, Georgia Southern gave the Paladins a game to remember.
Jelani Hewitt drilled a 3-pointer to tie the game in regulation, and Angel Matias hit his second key 3 in overtime to help the Eagles to an 88-81 overtime win on Thursday.
Matias’ wide open 3 — his second of the game and only his third of the season — to put GSU up 77-74 in overtime.
“I wasn’t going to shoot it,” Matias said, “but the defender took a step back, so I just shot it, and it went in.”
Hewitt fed Marvin Baynham for a two-handed slam on the next possession that gave the Eagles a 79-74 edge.
The Eagles (9-9, 2-1 SoCon) held their ground until Furman’s Larry Wideman attempted a 3-pointer that was blocked by point guard Brian Holmes. Tre Bussey grabbed the loose ball and hurled it down the floor to Kyle Doyle, who slammed it home to put GSU up 83-77 and place the game out of Furman’s reach.
Bussey led the Eagles with 26 points. Hewitt and Matias each added 21. Matias recorded his second-career double-double, grabbing 10 boards.
“He played with confidence,” GSU coach Mark Byington said. “Angel was a very good scorer in junior college basketball, and we know it’s different here. He’s finding his way. When he made those 3s, it was almost worth five points because the team cheers for him so hard and loves to see him succeed.”
“I like to rebound the ball,” Matias added. “I want to do what I did tonight every night to try to help my team keep going.”
Hewitt added nine rebounds, five assists and three steals, while guarding Furman’s leading scorer, Stephen Croone, who led the Paladins with 26 points.
“He was just making play after play, making steals and assists and we put him on Croone,” Byington said. “He played a complete game tonight and I was proud of his effort.”
Furman also got 21 points from Kendrec Ferrara.
For the third-consecutive game, GSU out-rebounded its opponent, grabbing 35 boards to Furman’s 33.
“We knew we needed stops down the stretch,” Hewitt said. “We boxed out and we got rebounds. We cleared out the paint and did a good job.”
The Paladins (6-12, 0-5) held a comfortable lead toward the end of regulation when a Wideman layup gave them a 67-60 advantage with 4:27 remaining, but the Eagles clawed back with a 7-0 run, sparked by a Matias 3, to tie the score.
Furman retook the lead on four-straight Stephen Croone points, and Matias chipped away when he made 1 of 2 from the free-throw line to leave GSU trailing 71-68 with a minute to go. Wideman missed a layup on the other end putting the ball back into the Eagles hands.
Hewitt drilled a contested, NBA-distance 3 to tie the game with 20 seconds left and send it to overtime.
“I shoot that shot 1,000 times before practice and after practice,” Hewitt said. “I was pretty confident letting it go. I wanted to be the guy to take the shot, and it went in for us.”
The Eagles led briefly midway through the second half when a Bussey layup tied the game and Hewitt got a steal, finishing on the other end to put GSU ahead 42-40, but Furman answered with an 8-1 run.
Furman dominated most of the first half and took a 30-18 lead when Wideman drilled a 3 with under four minutes to go before the break, but the Eagles finally got something going offensively.
Bussey hit a 3 that snapped a 9-2 Furman run and after a quick turnover, Hewitt hit his first 3 of the game. Hewitt rebounded a missed shot on the other end, and on GSU’s next possession, Hewitt fed Matias under the basket. Matias tipped in his own miss to cut the Paladins lead to 32-28.
Ferrara made a layup on the other end, but a Bussey 3 with 6 seconds on the clock capped a 13-4 GSU run and left the Eagles trailing 34-31 at halftime.
Georgia Southern opened the game missing 8 of its first 9 shots from the floor but hit 5 of 11 first-half 3s. Furman hit 54 percent of its first-half shots.
The Eagles play their first road SoCon game of the season when they travel to Boone, N.C., to face Appalachian State on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.