NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – Make it a Charleston sweep.
Approximately 12 hours after the College of Charleston women ended the Lady Eagles’ season, the Cougar men sent the Eagles packing, knocking Georgia Southern out of the Southern Conference tournament with an 87-73 defeat late Saturday night.
The third-seeded Eagles conclude their season with a 20-12 mark while the Cougars (16-16) advance to the semifinals where they’ll face Elon tonight.
It was another frustrating ending to the league tournament for the Eagles, who usually enter with a high seed but haven’t advanced to the championship game since joining the SoCon 16 years ago.
“The guys that are returning have to find a way to get over this hump,” said a dejected Louis Graham, who scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in his final game as an Eagle. “The SoCon tournament has just been the Achilles’ heel for Georgia Southern for years. It’s just been a monkey on our back for a while.”
Sixth-seeded Charleston set the tone with a commanding offensive performance in the first-half, which Cougar coach Bobby Cremins considered his club’s best 20 minutes of basketball this season. The Eagles cut CofC’s lead to two on a Matthew Fields dunk 6:24 before the half, but Charleston closed the period with a decisive 19-3 run to take an 18-point advantage into the locker room. The Eagles never recovered.
In the first 20 minutes, the Cougars were 15-for-26 from the field (57.7 percent) and 6-for-11 3-pointers while the Eagles hit just 33.3 percent (11 of 33) of their shots.
“They shot the ball excellent,” Graham said. “In my four years of being here, that’s probably the best shooting display I’ve seen. When they are shooting 3s like that and you’re not hitting shots, it’s a slippery slope.”
For the game, the Eagles hit just 41.7 percent of their tries (30 of 72) while Charleston nailed 27 of 45 for 60 percent. Georgia Southern wanted to slow the game’s tempo but couldn’t stick to the plan once it got so far behind.
Charleston was up 44-26 at the break and continued to soar ahead, going up by 27 after three consecutive 3s with 13:12 to play. Georgia Southern tried to make a comeback by scoring 10 straight points, but the hole was far too deep and the Eagles only came as close as 11.
“We played great basketball in the first half,” Cremins said. “We were on all cylinders and everything was clicking. Thank God we had a big lead.”
Fields led the Eagles with a team-high 18 points while Willie Powers added 15 and Anthony Marshall scored 12. Five Cougars finished with double figures, including Tony White, Jr. (19), Jermaine Johnson (18), Andrew Goudelock (13), Dustin Scott (12) and Marcus Hammond (10). Charleston once again pounded the Eagles at the 3-point line where they hit 10 of 18 tries.
“They are just a team that is playing extremely well right now,” Eagle coach Jeff Price said. “They played well at the end of the year, they are playing well in the tournament and we are a team that’s not playing well right now. When you combine those two things, that’s the result you get.”
GSU ends the season on a four-game losing streak, its longest skid of the year.
“I’m proud of our team, and I think we had a good year, but I’m really disappointed in the way we ended the year,” Price said. “We won 20 games, but to be honest with you we’ve won 20 games three out of the last five years and it’s not good enough anymore. We’ve got to get over the hump.”
Notes: Georgia Southern’s bench was outscored 25-14...Graham finished his career with 31 double-doubles.
Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.