ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- Georgia Southern gave the Chattanooga Mocs everything they had to give on Saturday in Kimmel Arena.
Unfortunately when you’re playing a team that doesn’t know how to lose conference games, everything isn’t enough.
The Eagles played blow for blow with the Mocs in the second half, but never overcame a first-half lull and were eliminated from the 2014 Southern Conference tournament in a 66-57 loss that was the last game the program will ever play as a member of the SoCon.
“I was proud of the energy that we found to fight back the way we did,” GSU coach Chris Vozab said. “I thought our kids just kept fighting and fighting the whole game.”
The No. 1 seed Mocs have now won 35 SoCon games in a row.
The eighth-seeded Eagles (10-21) trailed by as many as 17, and Chattanooga (27-3) had the game well in hand when Chelsey Shumpert hit a 3-pointer to put the Mocs up 44-29 with 14 minutes, 5 seconds left in the game.
But GSU chipped away at the UTC lead and reached deep into the tank as a MiMi DuBose 3 followed by an Angel McGowan layup got the Eagles within six, 50-44.
Keeping up the defensive energy on the other end of the floor, the Eagles didn’t give an inch, but a split second before the shot clock buzzed, Chattanooga’s Tatianna Jackson heaved up a desperation 3 that hit off the glass and clanged through the net.
“It was a dagger. You play 30 seconds of defense and then they bank in a 3,” GSU guard Anna Claire Knight said. “It’s hard. Who knows what would have happened if we had gotten that stop and gotten back on offense?”
“We kept fighting after that,” Vozab added, “but I think it took our momentum away for sure, after all the energy it took coming back.”
Knight scored 20 points for GSU, and Kirkland added 13.
Knight reached a career milestone. The junior needed 14 points coming into the game to cross the 1,000-point threshold.
The Mocs, who advance to the semifinals of the SoCon tournament, saw 10 different players score. They were led by Taylor Hall’s 16 points and nine rebounds. Aryanna Gilbert added 10 points.
The Mocs smothered the backcourt, and the only first-half kink in the defensive armor came in the lane. Forward Danielle Spencer scored GSU’s first six points, but that was all the Eagles got for 10:34 while Chattanooga went on a run that looked like it would never end.
Rebounds were at a premium for the Eagles in the first 10 minutes as UTC held an early 19-5 edge in that category, and GSU went on a streak of 15-straight missed shots.
Meanwhile, the Mocs went on a 12-0 run and took their largest lead when a Faith Dupree 3-pointer put the Eagles behind 29-12 with only 1:56 to go in the first half.
It was six-straight points by Kirkland that snapped GSU out of the scoring drought, and the Eagles went on an 8-2 run to end the half.
“I think we just got a little frantic,” Kirkland said. “We had to feel like, ‘We know what we’re doing. We’re ball players and we know how to play.’ It took a while to get going, but once it started, it kept going.”
No GSU guard scored in the first half until Knight hit a jumper with 1:35 to go, and a pair of Knight free throws left the Eagles trailing 29-18 at the break.
NOTES: DuBose hit the only 3-pointer she attempted in the game. The senior finishes her career with a program-best 185 career 3s. … The Mocs extended their overall winning streak to 23 games, with their last loss coming against Hawaii on Nov. 30, 2013. … Chattanooga won the SoCon regular season title with a perfect 18-0 record. It was the fourth time the program has run the table in the league.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.