Georgia Southern just made a statement.
After the start to the season included a seven-game losing streak, the Lady Eagles turned a corner with a win over Southern Conference powerhouse Chattanooga on Saturday.
Monday in Hanner Fieldhouse, the Eagles got a 67-66 win over Samford, a team that has already notched wins over Clemson and South Florida and was picked to win the SoCon.
It was the first win over Samford in GSU history.
“We didn’t start the season off very well and everyone knows that,” said Meredyth Frye, who finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds. “But now we’ve got this win, we got the win against UTC and I think people are going to know we’re not the team we were at the start. We’re a different team now.”
“To finish that one is just unbelievable,” added GSU coach Rusty Cram. “What a great feeling. We told our kids to enjoy this weekend through the holidays and to come back focused, but they’ve earned it.”
Trailing 64-62 with 2:55 remaining in the game, GSU’s Krista Tate, who had a quiet game until the end, took over.
She threw up a baseline jumper that went long, but tracked down her own rebound on the other side of the paint and whipped it to MiMi Dubose, who knocked down her fifth 3-pointer of the game to put the Eagles ahead 65-64.
Tate forced a turnover on the other end, but Samford got it back, and forward Savannah Hill (24 points, 17 in the second half) scored to put SU back up, 66-65.
Down on the other end, Tate found a lane in the paint, drove to the basket and threw in a layup for the eventual game-winning score with 19 seconds to go.
“Honestly, it was a Hail Mary,” said Tate. “We needed to score, we needed a bucket and I had the opportunity to win it. I hoped she’d foul me or I made the bucket, and fortunately, I made the bucket.”
Bulldogs point guard Emily London couldn’t find an open look on the final possession of the game. She threw up a last-second shot in traffic, and Tate corralled the rebound to seal the win.
“It feels amazing,” said Tate, a junior. “We beat UTC in Hanner my freshman year, and finally, we beat Samford.”
Samford entered the game shooting an eye-popping 42.9 percent from behind the 3-point line and 45.1 percent from the floor.
Georgia Southern (4-8, 2-2 SoCon) gave the Lady Bulldogs a taste of their own medicine at the start of the game.
MiMi DuBose was lights out in the first half, knocking down four of her first six 3-point attempts and helping GSU to an early 17-3 lead.
“Most of the games up until this point we started off even with our opponent or got behind,” said DuBose. “I think that really got everyone excited. They’re a great team — one of the best in the conference. We knew they were going to make their run and come back, but we did an awesome job finishing tonight.”
Jamie Navarro (12 points) and Logan Youngblood helped out with first-half 3s, and the Eagles held on for a 38-37 lead at the break.
Samford (7-3, 2-1) entered the game leading the SoCon from the free-throw line, but made just 15 of 23 attempts in the game.
The Eagles out-rebounded the Bulldogs 38-20, and allowed only three offensive boards.
“They’re a team full of great shooters,” said Cram. “We felt like we had to limit their offensive rebounds and limit the second-chance points.”
Georgia Southern returns to action at home on Dec. 29 hosting High Point at 7 p.m. in Hanner.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.