CLEMSON, S.C. – It was a tenacious and scrappy effort, one the Eagles hope will ultimately pay dividends once they get into the thick of their conference schedule.
But in the meantime, a road-weary Georgia Southern team was dealt its second straight loss Tuesday, a 72-60 defeat at No. 22 Clemson. Turnovers and missed free throws kept any possibility of an Eagle upset at bay, while the Tigers, playing for the first time in two weeks, dominated inside. Led by James Mays’ game-high 22 points, Clemson improved to 11-0.
Georgia Southern (6-5) held the lead twice early, but Clemson began pulling away at the 16:29 mark in the first half, reeling off an 18-1 run to take a 22-7 edge after three consecutive Eagle turnovers and a Mays 3. The Tigers owned a double-figure lead from that point until Louis Graham’s dunk pulled the Eagles within nine with 5:41 to play.
“We kept fighting to get it under 10, and finally we did that,” Eagle coach Jeff Price said. “But a couple crucial plays cost us. About five less turnovers and, if we could make a free throw, we’d have a chance to win this game. I thought we showed some heart and plugged away, but you can’t play a team like this on the road, turn it over 24 times and go 5-for-13 from the free throw line.”
After Graham’s slam, Clemson turned up its pressure and unleashed a 10-1 run to put the game out of reach for good.
“We let up a little bit, and as we did, Georgia Southern really turned it up,” Tiger coach Oliver Purnell said. “I thought they turned it up and kept it revved up for the entire game and really forced us to turn it up, fight them off, battle and scrap there to win the game.”
Senior guard Donte Gennie led the Eagles with 19 — the most since he posted 26 in the season opener — while Dwayne Foreman added 17. Graham finished with 15 points, 12 in the second half, and a team-high 12 boards for his fourth straight double-double and sixth this season.
The Eagles were 8 of 22 (36.4 percent) from the field in the first half and improved to 16 of 29 in the final 20 minutes thanks to Graham. If Price could have done anything differently, he said he would have gone to Graham more in the first half.
Georgia Southern turned the ball over 24 times to Clemson’s 15, including 14 first-half giveaways. The Eagles trailed 34-21 at the break — the fewest points by the Eagles in a first half this season.
“I’d like to give Georgia Southern an awful lot of credit for the way they played tonight,” Purnell said. “I thought they came in and really gave us a battle.”
The Eagles return to Southern Conference action Dec. 30, hosting UNC Greensboro at 3:30 p.m.
“There’s nothing like Hanner,” Gennie said. “We can’t wait to get back home.”
Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.