For a brief minute, it looked like Elon might just roll into Hanner Fieldhouse and pull off an upset.
Down five midway through the first half Monday, the Phoenix rallied for eight straight points to take a three-point lead before Georgia Southern came storming back. Junior Ashley Melson ignited the fury with nine consecutive points, helping the Eagles close the first half with a commanding 21-3 surge and take a 40-25 edge into the locker room.
The Eagles never looked back, cruising to a 70-51 Southern Conference win and extending their home winning streak to 10 games. Georgia Southern (13-9, 9-2) is undefeated in Hanner this year.
Melson started the key first-half run with three straight jumpers and a 3-pointer before freshman Jamie Navarro jumped in with back-to-back 3s. Melson finished with a game-high 17 points, and sophomore Jessica Geiger scored a career-best 14.
“It just seems to be somebody different every time,” Eagle coach Rusty Cram said. “That’s what’s amazing this year. I don’t know who the leading scorer is going to be every night, and these kids are just getting more and more confident every time we go out.”
The Phoenix started with a tall 2-3 zone and stuck with it as long as they could before GSU took control and forced them to go man-to-man. The Eagles hit 46.7 percent (28-for-60) of their shots for the game, well above their season average of 38 percent. Nine GSU players scored on the night.
“The kids are finally starting to understand and buy into the offense because they are starting to read what the defense is giving them,” Cram said. “It doesn’t matter what they throw at us, we feel like we can beat it right now.”
It was the ninth straight conference loss for Elon (7-16, 2-9), which was led by Kitara McMoore (12) and Tiffany Davis (11). Meanwhile, the Eagles remained in a two-way tie with Western Carolina for second place in the league standings. The Southern Conference tournament begins March 6 in Charleston, S.C.
“We want our best ballgames to happen that last week in February and the first week of March, so we’ll be at the top of our game (for the tournament),” Cram said. “There are some areas we’ve got to continue to work on.”
Cram was pleased with the effort from senior forward Christa Waterman, who made her first start of the season replacing sophomore J’Lisia Ogburn, who is suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Waterman was 2-for-4 with four rebounds.
“For her to come in and give us that extra help we needed was huge,” Cram said. “Plus, what Ashley Rivens and Shawnda Atwood bring to the defensive end isn’t what most people notice. But as coaches — we couldn’t do without them.”
Rivens finished with eight points, and Atwood grabbed a season-high 11 rebounds, seven on the defensive end.
The Eagles begin a four-game road jaunt Saturday at Wofford.
Notes: Georgia Southern was 17 of 29 (58.6 percent) from the field in the first half and 6-for-6 on free throws for the game…The Eagles out-rebounded Elon 31-28 and forced 26 turnovers…Melson scored 13 of her 17 points in the first half.
Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.