The Georgia Southern men’s basketball team spent 28 years trying to find a win on the third floor of the athletics arena at Georgia State in downtown Atlanta.
The Eagles now have two wins on the Panthers’ floor in the last 13 days. More importantly, the Eagles also have more of their 2020 season lying in front of them as their dominating 81-62 victory over Georgia State on Wednesday night sent them into the Sun Belt tournament semifinals to be contested in New Orleans.
Georgia Southern (20-13) was all but left for dead as it trailed Louisiana by 16 at Hanner Fieldhouse midway through the second half on Monday. But the Eagles got off the mat and staged a huge rally that led to a comeback win. If there was any hangover effect from the drama early in the week, the team didn’t show it as the Eagles led throughout the night.
Quan Jackson led the way for the Eagles, scoring 19 points. A key to the Eagles’ success this season has been balance and that showed Wednesday as Jackson was followed closely by Isaiah Crawley’s double-double (15 points, 16 rebounds), as well as hot shooting by Ike Smith and Calvin Wishart who notched 13 and 10 points, respectively.
The Achilles heel for Georgia Southern throughout the season has been closing out games. The team allowed big second half comebacks in five Sun Belt losses and could have easily been a top seed - with a by straight into the semifinals — if not for the lapses.
The ghosts of those games that got away could have easily haunted the Eagles as they slowly build a second half lead up to double digits. But just when the team had lost its way in previous games, the Eagles hit a gear they hadn’t shown all season.
With 5:43 to play, Georgia Southern held a 10 point advantage. The next two minutes saw the Eagles go 3-for-4 from the field, capped off by an Elijah McCadden 3-pointer that put them up 69-49.
That was enough to break Georgia State as the Panthers began to foul with over three minutes remaining in a last-gasp attempt to get back into contention.
Georgia Southern wasn’t having any of it, with a few broken presses and easy layups sending the fourth-seeded Panthers home for the season in what was their first game of the conference tournament.
Wednesday’s win was thrilling, but it only leads to the next challenge for Georgia Southern.
The Eagles now travel to New Orleans and the Smoothie King Center where they will face top-seeded Little Rock in a semifinal matchup on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Little Rock took the only regular season matchup between the two squads with a 79-73 home victory on Jan. 6.