NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – The Georgia Southern women had definitely planned on hanging around a little longer.
But the fourth-seeded Eagles couldn’t find any sort of rhythm offensively Saturday morning at the North Charleston Coliseum while the College of Charleston put together a dominating second half to run away with a 65-53 quarterfinal upset. The Southern Conference tournament loss ended the season for Georgia Southern, which finished with a much improved 17-13 mark (13-5 SoCon).
Crestfallen, the Eagles searched for answers to what went wrong against the Cougars (14-15, 9-9), who Georgia Southern swept by a combined 40 points during the regular season. Charleston trailed by one at the break but was lights out in the second half, hitting 57.9 percent of its shots (11 of 19) while the Eagles were an abysmal 9-for-39 (23.1 percent) from the floor.
Another glaring discrepancy was on the boards, where the Cougars held a 46-28 edge, which helped them offset their 27 turnovers. Eagle coach Rusty Cram was also disappointed by his team’s usually solid depth as the Charleston bench outscored GSU’s 27-12.
“Hat’s off to Charleston,” he said. “They came prepared, and they beat us in just about every phase of the game today. I just didn’t feel like we played the last 32 minutes of the ball game. We didn’t have anybody really filling it up. We made too many mistakes during crucial times, and that’s what it came down to.”
Down 23-22 at the half, Charleston opened the final period on fire, taking their first lead on a Sarah Moye layup with 18:19 to play. The basket was part of a 16-2 Cougar run – which included 11 unanswered points - and culminated with Charleston up by 11 after a Tonia Gerty free throw. The Cougars then held the Eagles without a basket for more than eight minutes while their lead swelled to 13.
“What we focused on in the locker room before we came out was really jumping on top of them and getting a lead before they jumped on top of us,” Charleston’s Ashley Scott said.
Georgia Southern attempted to rally late, pulling within six points after back-to-back 3-pointers by Carolyn Whitney and Jessica Geiger with 1:11 to go, but Charleston slipped away by hitting all eight of its final free throw tries. The fifth-seeded Cougars picked up their first tournament win since 2005 and advanced to the semifinals for the first time since joining the joining the league 10 years ago. They’ll face top-seeded Chattanooga Sunday.
“Obviously this is a tremendous win for us,” CofC coach Nancy Wilson said. “I thought our players answered the call every time GSU made a run. I’m just thrilled.”
Gerty paced Charleston with a game-high 16 points while Jill Furstenburg and Scott added 12 apiece. Shawnda Atwood and Whitney tied for a team high 11 points, and Tiffany Brown scored 10 for the Eagles.
GSU couldn’t pull away in the first half despite forcing 17 turnovers and leading most of the way. The Eagles also suffered through offensive lulls early, going more than five minutes without a field goal midway through the first period.
“The stretches we went without a basket was just (because of) pressure on the wings,” said Atwood, who carried the Eagles early by scoring 11 of her team’s first 15 points. “We weren’t really getting the ball inside, and our guards really weren’t shooting well. It was just hard for us to score. The open layups we had were rolling in and out, so it was a hard time for us scoring-wise.”
The Eagles’ 17 wins are the most since 2002-03 when they went 20-10.
“My goal this year was to finish in the top three, and we finished tied for third,” Cram said. “That was a huge step, and up until today we hadn’t lost to a team in the conference below third place. As far as the overall picture, I’m very proud of what they’ve accomplished, but at this particular moment I’m not the happiest camper in the world – that’s for sure. Everybody wants to win this time of year, but if you don’t bring your A-game, you go home.”
Notes: Georgia Southern shot 29 percent for the game (18 of 62) to CofC’s 47.5 percent (19 of 40)…Brown replaced an injured Ashley Melson in the starting lineup. Melson was limited to 12 minutes but recorded a game-high four steals…J’Lisia Ogburn, Jamie Navarro and Brown had three steals apiece…Ogburn also grabbed a team-high six rebounds.
Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.