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Elon ends Eagles' season
Georgia Southern's Eric Ferguson walks off the court disappointed in the final seconds of the Eagles' loss to Elon Saturday night in the Southern Conference tournament in Asheville, N.C. Ferguson scored a game-high 21 points, but it wasn't enough as Georgia Southern's season ended at the hands of the Phoenix. - photo by TYLER BUCKNELL/Special to the Herald

ASHEVILLE, N.C. -—Georgia Southern men’s basketball head coach Charlton Young fought back tears as he expressed gratitude for his players’ effort this season following a 65-58 loss to Elon in the quarterfinals of the Southern Conference Tournament on Saturday night at U.S. Cellular Center.

"We’re very disappointed in the outcome of the game to say the least," Young said. "We wanted very badly to send our two seniors out, Willie Powers and Ben Drayton, the right way. Those two young men are championship people and they will be successful in life no matter what they choose.

"I really feel like I let them down. I didn’t pull them through the fire. They will forever be celebrated in Georgia Southern basketball. They pulled us out of the gutter and helped us rebuild the program."

GSU produced a memorable season after suffering to a 5-27 record last season, a season in which the Eagles won one SoCon game only one of its last 19 games.

This season, GSU advanced to the quarterfinals by storming back from a 14-point deficit in the first half to beat Chattanooga, 76-70, on Friday night. GSU’s win Friday was its first in the SoCon Tournament since Feb. 28, 2007, when the Eagles beat The Citadel, 62-46.

GSU has not won consecutive games in the SoCon Tournament since March 1-2, 2001, when the Eagles beat VMI, 76-59, and defeated East Tennessee State, 72-64.

"We accomplished a lot this season," Young said. "I think there’s no doubt that Georgia Southern basketball is back. We have five sophomores, three freshmen and one junior who have grown up a lot, have matured.

"I think the future of Georgia Southern basketball is very bright. I think we’ll be around awhile."

GSU (15-15), the No. 3 seed from the SoCon’s South Division, was led by sophomore forward Eric Ferguson, who scored 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds, both game highs. Powers, the other Eagle in double-figure scoring, had 10 points.

Elon (15-15), the No. 2 seed from the North Division, advanced to the semifinals and will play Davidson (23-7), the No. 1 seed from the South Division, at 8:30 tonight. Davidson earned a first-round bye and beat Furman, 73-54, in the quarterfinals Saturday night.

Elon, which earned a first-round bye, was led by sophomore guard Jack Isenbarger, who scored 18 points.

GSU played Elon one time earlier this season and won, 69-63, on Jan. 5 in Elon, N.C. The Eagles trailed, 30-22, at halftime of that game but rallied from a 14-point deficit in the second half to win.

Saturday night, a crowd of 5,432 watched as Elon led by as many as 11 points in the first half before GSU cut it to 31-27 at halftime.

With 10:30 remaining in the game, as GSU’s Ferguson was preparing to throw the ball inbounds to Powers near press row, Ferguson said to Powers, "I need you, baby. Come on, man."

Powers then scored a basket, made a steal and scored again to pull GSU within one point, 46-45.

The Eagles tied the game at 48 on Drayton’s 3-pointer with 8:57 to play. But Elon junior guard Josh Bonney’s layup with 8:15 remaining gave the Phoenix a 50-48 lead they never relinquished. Both teams grabbed 27 rebounds apiece.

GSU entered the SoCon Tournament with a two-game losing streak. The Eagles fell to College of Charleston, and lost to Davidson in the regular-season finale, squandering an opportunity to earn a first-round bye in the tournament. GSU needed to win one of those games.

"I think as a program we found out the importance of the regular season, and holding on to a bye," Young said. "There was no question that Elon was a fresher bunch than us. Most nights, we’re able to wear teams down. Tonight, we wore down, which probably caused a poor outing from the foul line. And I think that’s the ballgame in a nutshell."

GSU shot 47.4 percent (9 of 19) from the foul line in the game compared to Elon’s 63.2-percent (12 of 19) shooting from the foul line.


Noell Barnidge can be reached at (912) 489-9408.