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Eagles come unglued in loss to Georgia State
GS Basketball
Georgia State players Corey Allen, center, and Damon Wilson step in front of Georgia Southerns Ike Smith as he misses the last of three free throws in the final seconds at Hanner Fieldhouse on Saturday, Jan. 25. The Eagles struggled late at the foul line in their 82-77 loss. - photo by By SCOTT BRYANT

Leading by 14 points at the under-16 minute media timeout in the second half, the Georgia Southern men’s basketball team appeared to be on its way to another solid home performance.

But Georgia State mounted a comeback that combined with cold shooting and numerous Eagle miscues down the stretch. In the end, it was the Panthers from Atlanta that escaped with an 82-77 victory while Georgia Southern suffered its first home loss of the season.

“We’re trying to improve and grow as a team,” GS coach Mark Byington said. “In the end, we just didn’t show the resiliency that we needed to win. We didn’t show the composure and belief that we would win when things got tough.”

With the loss, Georgia Southern drops to 6-4 in Sun Belt Conference play and is now in the middle of the pack after being tied for first two weeks ago. Even more concerning, Saturday’s setback marked the third time in their four Sun Belt losses that the Eagles blew a double-digit lead in the second half.

To its credit, Georgia State (14-7, 7-3) never let up and put pressure on the Eagles all the way. The Panthers top the Sun Belt in scoring, so it was no surprise that they were able to cut into the Eagles big lead in the second half, but the final five minutes of play saw Georgia Southern do itself in with too many mistakes while the Panthers did all the little things right to get the win.

The lowlight of the night came with just over five minutes to play. Isaiah Crawley (14 points, 6 rebounds) was fouled hard as he went for a layup, and some resulting talk also led to a technical foul called against Georgia State.

With the Eagles still leading by two points, Crawley missed both of his free throws and was followed by Ike Smith missing the two technical foul free throws. Georgia Southern then took possession and immediately turned the ball over by stepping out of bounds on a baseline drive.

Two possessions. Four free throws. Zero points.

The teams traded the lead back and forth down the stretch and a 3-pointer by Smith - who led the Eagles with 23 points and eight rebounds - gave them a 76-74 lead with 2:32 to play. But that was the last field goal of the night for Georgia Southern and the only one for the team over the final 8:08 of play.

“It was a combination of things that hurt us,” Byington said. “We had a lot of trouble against their pressure and turned the ball over. And then there were the free throws. We started out well, but then missed those four in a row.

“And after that, we couldn’t get stops or rebounds. We got heavy-footed and didn’t make plays.”

Georgia State took the lead for good on a Josh Lindor put-back layup with 51 seconds to play. A Panther press proceeded to tackle Georgia Southern’s Elijah McCadden on the ensuing possession, but no foul was called and the Panthers got an easy fastbreak layup.

One more empty possession followed for the Eagles and the Panthers were able to seal the game from the free throw line.

Looking ahead, Georgia Southern will try to snap what is now a two-game losing streak as it continues its homestand. The Eagles host Troy on Thursday and will try to avenge last week’s loss at South Alabama when the Jaguars come to Hanner on Saturday.