ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- The Georgia Southern Eagles didn’t have much left in the tank, and the Wofford Terriers knew it.
In the semifinals of the Eagles’ final Southern Conference tournament, playing for the third time in as many days, they were a step slower than Wofford and fell 71-57 on Sunday in the U.S. Cellular Center.
“We didn’t score early, and at the same time we weren’t getting stops. The game got away from us,” first-year GSU coach Mark Byington said. “I was proud of the effort. They were giving maximum effort out there, it was just one of those things where their mind was telling their legs to go and their legs weren’t going.”
It was the final game of as a member of the SoCon for the seventh-seeded Eagles, who finished 15-19 and made it to the semis of the tournament for the first time since 2005.
Seniors Tre Bussey and Brian Holmes led the Eagles with 14 points each.
The team’s third senior, Marvin Baynham, snagged eight boards, including five offensive rebounds and scored six points off put-backs.
“I told (the seniors) I’m proud of this team, and I really like coaching this team. I told them the same thing today, that didn’t change. They’re great men. Sometimes you go through adversity and you go through challenges and it makes you stronger. I feel confident these guys will go into the real world, get jobs or whatever else, and they’ll do well. All of them are going to graduate, and they’ve done a great job of laying a foundation for this program.”
No. 2 seed Wofford (19-12) led by as many as 23 in the second half, and GSU never let up, getting as close as 14 when an offensive putback by senior Marvin Baynham made with 64-50 with 2:13 remaining, but the Terriers answered like they did throughout the game, as Karl Cochran drilled a 3 on the other end.
From the opening tip, the Eagles looked every bit of a team playing its third game in three days. They started the game 4 of 21 from the floor, and Wofford built a 25-12 lead on a KARL Cochran layup.
Cochran scored 14 points, and Lee Skinner led all scorers with 15.
It was their defense however, two blocked shots by Cochran and 12 rebounds by Skinner, that put GSU away early.
“If you know anything about our team, it’s what we hang our hat on,” Wofford coach Mike Young said. “(Skinner and Cochran) are absolute warriors in that department. You hold Georgia Southern to 26.9 percent in the first half and out-rebound them by five, you’re getting something done.”
The opening minutes included a 12-2 run, and the icing on the cake came when Eric Garcia threw up an alley-oop than was slammed home by Justin Gordon.
The Eagles put a little something together with an 8-3 run to cut the score to 30-20, but Cochran canned a 3 at the halftime buzzer to put GSU down 13 at the break.
Wofford will face No. 5 seed Western Carolina, which beat Elon 66-64 in the quarterfinals and eliminated No. 1 seed Davidson in a stunning, 99-97, overtime thriller, in the finals on Monday at 9 p.m.
The winner will be crowned SoCon champion and earn an automatic bid to the 2014 NCAA tournament. Davidson, which finished 20-12, earned an automatic bid to the NIT by virtue of its regular-season SoCon title.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-4908.