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GSU says goodbye to 1st-round tourney bye

    Georgia Southern’s men’s basketball team didn’t help itself Saturday night against Davidson and the Eagles didn’t get any help from Furman.
    GSU lost, 71-54, to Davidson and failed to clinch a first-round bye in the Southern Conference Tournament, which begins Friday in Asheville, N.C.
    GSU (14-14, 12-6) entered Saturday night’s game in second place in the SoCon’s South Division behind Davidson (22-7, 16-2). The Eagles would have secured a first-round bye if they had beaten Davidson or if Furman had beaten Wofford. The Paladins lost, 67-52, to the Terriers (19-12, 12-6) in Spartanburg, S.C.
    GSU is the No. 3 seed in the SoCon’s South Division behind top-seeded Davidson and second-seeded Wofford. The Eagles will play Chattanooga (11-20, 5-13), the No. 6 seed in the North Division, at 8:30 p.m. Friday in the first round of the SoCon Tournament. Since GSU and Wofford split in their games against each other this season, the tiebreaker went to games against the next-best team in the same division: GSU split with College of Charleston, while Wofford swept the Cougars.
    GSU would have clinched a first-round bye by beating College of Charleston on Thursday but the Eagles lost, 58-53, in Charleston, S.C.
    “We are definitely disappointed that we didn’t put ourselves in a position to have a bye,” GSU head coach Charlton Young said. “The jump from not being very good  to good is much easier than that jump from being a good team to an elite team. Right now we’re a good team trying to become an elite team. And tonight, you’ve got to give Coach (Bob) McKillop and Davidson credit. They outplayed us in every facet of the game.
    “They were more physical than us. They pushed us off every screen when we did attack that paint. They chested us, they walled us, and mentally, we didn’t respond well. We had a lot of chances to get to the paint, a lot of chances where we were right at the rim, and we just couldn’t put it in the basket.”
    Saturday night, Senior Night, a Hanner Fieldhouse crowd of 2,430 watched as GSU lost its second consecutive game and snapped its 10-game home winning streak. GSU finished the regular season 8-1 in SoCon games at home.
    Davidson was led by junior Jake Cohen, a 6-foot-10  forward who scored a team-high 16 points. JP Kuhlman added 15 points and a game-high nine rebounds. De’Mon Brooks had 14 points and Nik Cochran chipped in 12 points for the Wildcats.
    GSU was led by sophomore guard Jelani Hewitt, who scored a game-high 17 points. Sophomore forward Eric Ferguson, who was charged with two fouls within the game’s first three minutes, finished with 13 points. Senior guards Willie Powers and Ben Drayton, who were honored at midcourt before the game, finished with nine points apiece.
    “It was tough coming off that mentally exhausting game on Thursday, but at the same time there’s no excuse,” Drayton said. “Our performance tonight wasn’t OK.”
    Davidson has dominated GSU in the series. The Wildcats are 28-6 all-time against the Eagles. GSU has not beaten Davidson since Feb. 21, 2006, when it captured a 76-73 victory in Statesboro. Davidson has won 15 of the last 16 games. The Wildcats beat the Eagles, 96-74, on Jan. 7 in Davidson, N.C.
    “They forced us, they pushed us, they shoved us, they chested us, in a disciplined manner and we struggled with it,” said Young, whose Eagles trailed, 33-24, at halftime. “They taught us tonight how to be an elite team. For them to come in here on our Senior Night, in front of a packed house at Hanner, is very impressive.”
    The Wildcats outrebounded the Eagles, 28-14, in the first half and 48-33 in the game. Davidson shot 45.2 percent (14-of-31) from the field in the first half compared to GSU’s 34.5-percent (10-of-29) shooting. In the game, Davidson shot 47.2 percent (25-of-53) from the field compared to GSU’s 31.1-percent shooting (19-of-61).
    “They’re definitely a really good team,” Powers said of Davidson. “I think they came out and were more physical than us. They beat us to 50-50 balls.”
    Noell Barnidge can be reached at (912) 489-9408.