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GSU soars over Wofford
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Georgia Southern guard Willie Powers, top, draws a foul on a three-point shot attempt on Wofford's Brad Loesing during the second half at Hanner Fieldhouse Thursday. Powers finished the game with 14 points in the 63-49 Eagles' victory. The win keeps GSU in second place in its division. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

It was never close.

 

Wofford never led. The game was never tied.

 

Georgia Southern breezed to a 63-49 victory over the Terriers on Thursday night at Hanner Fieldhouse, avenging a 25-point loss at Wofford on Jan. 14.

 

More importantly, GSU (12-12, 10-4) now has a two-game lead over Wofford (15-11, 8-6), the two-time defending Southern Conference Tournament champion, in the SoCon’s South Division standings.

 

GSU is in second place, while Wofford is third. Both trail first-place Davidson. GSU has four games remaining in the regular season. The SoCon Tournament is March 2-5 in Asheville, N.C. The first- and second-place teams in the SoCon’s South and North divisions earn a first-round bye in the SoCon Tournament.

 

“I really think we can be an NCAA Tournament team,” said GSU head coach Charlton Young, whose Eagles finished last season 5-27, won one SoCon game and won only one of their last 19 games. “I say that and everybody says, ‘Lord, this boy is on drugs.’ But I really think that we can make the NCAA Tournament.”

 

GSU designated the game a “White Out” and gave away white T-shirts with the words “Beat Wofford” printed in blue across the front to the first 300 fans in attendance. A crowd of 2,353 watched as GSU allowed its fewest points this season, extended its winning streak to four games for the first time since the 2006-07 season, and handed Wofford its first three-game losing streak since December 2009.

 

“We’re starting to flex our muscle now and these young guys who went through that traumatic season last year, they want to show the world that we’re a good basketball team,” Young said. “(The win was) huge. Huge. (Wofford head coach) Mike Young, what he’s done at Wofford, is nothing short of amazing. Do you know how hard it is to win a conference tournament? I won one in 1992 and cried like a baby. And (the Eagles) haven’t won one since.

 

“Mike Young and his staff, and Wofford’s program, they’ve won two in a row. They carry themselves in a championship fashion.”

 

GSU sophomore forward Eric Ferguson scored a game-high 15 points and grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds, despite playing only 28 minutes because of foul trouble. He registered his second consecutive double-double, and fifth this season.

 

GSU senior guard Willie Powers scored 14 points and senior guard Ben Drayton scored 12 points, including three 3-pointers.

 

“Eric Ferguson did a tremendous job of fighting through adversity,” Young said. “He started off slow, looked like he was having a terrible game and then you look up and he’s got 15 points and 11 rebounds. In 28 minutes. In foul trouble. He’s a special player.

 

“But Willie Powers and Ben Drayton are so good. They’re so old and savvy. They just control the game. Both of them. Having those two point guards out there with Jelani Hewitt, now we’re playing with three point guards. They’re very difficult to keep out of the paint.”

 

Wofford was led by Brad Loesing, who scored 13 points. Drew Crowell scored 12 points and grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds.

GSU entered having not beaten Wofford since 2007. The Terriers beat the Eagles, 88-63, on Jan. 14 in Spartanburg, S.C.

 

“Before the game, Coach (Young) was amped in the locker room, but our team as a whole, we were just pretty calm, just focused on the task at hand,” GSU’s Powers said. “He was amped because they embarrassed us up there (in Spartanburg, S.C.). He wanted to make sure that we didn’t come out and get embarrassed again, and just play harder. That was his main thing, just play harder.”

 

GSU pounced on Wofford immediately. Drayton’s 3-pointer gave the Eagles a 27-20 lead. He pounded his chest, at his heart, with a clenched fist after the ball swished through the net.

 

“It was an emotional moment,” Drayton said. “Hanner, it was remarkable tonight. The ‘White Out’ was great; everybody coming out to support. I think all of us, we just kind of fed off that energy.”

 

GSU led, 29-24, at halftime. In the second half GSU’s Powers scored to make it 45-30. Wofford immediately called a timeout. GSU’s Ferguson, on the bench with three fouls, came onto the court, jumped and chest-bumped freshman forward Tyrone Brown in mid-air. GSU fans shouted “Georgia” and “Southern” back and forth in the stands.

 

“We’ve got other players that can make plays,” Ferguson said. “I support them. They support me. It works both ways. I was just glad to see them come out there and step it up, and pick up my slack. When it was my turn to come back in, I just went out there and did what I was supposed to do.”

 

In the final seconds, GSU’s student section began chanting “Just like football,” a reference to the Eagles’ 31-10 victory over Wofford last football season to win the SoCon championship.

 

GSU is 7-0 in SoCon home games. The Eagles’ next game is at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at The Citadel.

 

“We’re a program that … nobody respects us … these teams that come in here, they don’t respect us,” Young said. “They don’t respect me as a coach. They don’t respect our program. People view us as a joke. And we’ve got to keep playing with a chip on our shoulder.”

 

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