Georgia Southern came up just a bit short in a showdown with in-state rival Georgia Monday night in Athens.
The Eagles — playing against the Bulldogs for the first time in 18 years — led for much of the second half, but weren’t able to execute on either side of the floor over the final minutes. Georgia (8-3) ended the game on a 14-4 run over the final five minutes of play as they notched a 73-64 win.
As much as the Eagles (8-5) will regret the final minutes of the game in which they let things get away, they will also have questions about what could have been if not for a start to the game that was just as brutal.
Georgia scored the first seven points of the contest and opened the game on a 10-2 run, with Georgia Southern missing its first four attempts from the field while the Bulldogs hit on each of their first four.
The opening sequence — much like the decisive final push by UGA — lasted about five minutes. The 30 minutes of play between those stretches showed why Georgia Southern has high hopes for the season as it controlled the action for most of the game.
Ike Smith — now at 100 percent after two injury-filled seasons — is looking like the same first-team All-Sun Belt performer has has been in the past. The sixth-year senior led the Eagles with 25 points and also recorded six rebounds.
Freshman phenomenon Anthony Edwards was as good as advertised for the Bulldogs. The likely NBA lottery pick led UGA with 23 points, including a driving layup and two dunks during his team’s stretch run to seize the victory. Toumani Camara was the only other big weapon for the UGA offense on the night, hitting on all eight of his attempts from the floor. Camara's 16 points made him the only other Bulldog to hit double-digits on the night, but UGA had strength in numbers as it gave minutes to 10 players and got points out of nine.
Georgia Southern entered the game with a much more balanced offense as five players began Monday averaging at least 10 points per game. The Eagles spread the ball around once again as Isaiah Crawley (16 points) and David Lee Jones Jr. (10 points) had solid nights, but no other Eagle scored more than four and the team continued to struggle to hit the mark from behind the arc as GS hit on just seven of its 25 3-point attempts.
Georgia Southern held its own against the bigger UGA squad, only losing the rebounding battle by two.
But one of the turning points in the game stemmed from the Eagles not being able to keep up their dominance in a different stat category.
Throughout the season, the Eagles have made a living off of turning teams over and generating points in transition. Georgia Southern continued to flex its defensive muscle against UGA for much of the night, but it was four Eagle turnovers in less than four minutes —three of which led to easy buckets for the Bulldogs — that let the game slip away and allowed Georgia to win the turnover battle for the evening.
Georgia Southern has lost each of its last two non-conference games, but it can now set its attention squarely on the Sun Belt.
The Eagles won a pair of nail-biters to open up conference play last weekend and have nothing but Sun Belt opponents the rest of the way.
The Eagles will take the next week off before visiting Coastal Carolina Jan. 2 in Conway, S.C. and then travelling to Appalachian State Jan. 4.