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Wild finish sends Southern to another close loss
MENS HOOPS 6 col col
Georgia Southern head coach Jeff Price, right, argues with an official over a call in the last minute os Saturday’s 62-57 loss to Chattanooga. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
    The frustration was everywhere in Georgia Southern’s 62-57 loss to Chattanooga Saturday afternoon at Hanner Fieldhouse.
    It was prevalent on the court where the Eagles were down by four with less than two minutes to play and missed three consecutive shots. It was in the stands where the Hanner Hooligans rested their hands on top of their heads and watched in disbelief.
    It continued when Jimmy Tobias stole the ball, only to turn it over as he sprinted down the court, with 1:21 remaining and GSU trailing 57-53.
    But then there was hope.
    Donte Gennie pulled the Eagles within two on a putback with 36 seconds remaining, before the ball rolled off UTC’s Kevin Bridgewaters’ foot and Louis Graham snatched it. In one swift movement, Graham reached skyward and slammed what appeared to be the game-tying dunk. The crowd of 2,809 roared with approval.
    “We are at Georgia Southern, and I thought they tied the game,” Mocs senior guard Ricky Hood said. “I was really worried.”
    Then the whistle blew, the referees called a double-dribble and Graham’s basket was no good.
    “Now I don’t know where double-dribble came from, but I do that move all the time,” Graham said. “I do it all the time — you catch the ball, bounce it with two hands and you go up with it. I wasn’t too far away from the basket to do that, so I bounced it and went up and dunked it. He turned around a called a double-dribble. You don’t call that with 20 something seconds to go — you let that play out. It really was a turning point in the game.”
    Frustration soared even higher a few seconds later on a confusing out-of-bounds call by the refs, who verbally called it Chattanooga’s ball but pointed as though Georgia Southern had gained possession. After a timeout, officials clarified the call, which went Chattanooga’s way.
    “The referee pointed it was our ball, and I spent a whole timeout plotting our offense,” Eagle coach Jeff Price said. “When you come out on the floor and it’s just the opposite, it’s hard to handle.”
    Even Mocs coach John Shulman was confused in the game’s final seconds.
    “It was like a WWE wrestling match out there the last 25 or 30 seconds — I didn’t know what was going on during that time period,” he said. “But we made enough plays and had some guys step up and made enough stops. This is a tough environment, and I was proud of our kids for hanging in there. It wasn’t pretty, but we gutted it out.”
    Georgia Southern, which has lost six of its last seven, fell to 10-12 overall and 3-8 in Southern Conference play. The Mocs improved to 10-14 and 3-9 in the league.
    The Eagles struggled offensively, shooting 39.2 percent from the field for the game and 21.1 from behind the arc (4 of 19). GSU was without its starting point guard Dwayne Foreman (10.6 ppg, 6.4 apg), who is day-to-day with a strained hamstring. Freshman Antoine Johnson filled in for Foreman, scoring seven in his first career start. Johnson played 30 minutes and freshman Blake Thompson was in for 16 – both career highs.
    Graham carried most of the offensive load for GSU, scoring a team-high 16 and grabbing 11 rebounds - his second straight double-double and 10th this year. Gennie added 10 points, eight in the second half, but was 2-for-10 on 3-pointers.
    “We are not nearly the explosive offensive team we’ve been in the past, particularly without Dwayne,” Price said. “I continue to tell our team that if we are not going to score a lot, we have to be defending well. I thought we spent so much time chasing (Keddric) Mays around that we let other guys score baskets who don’t need to be scoring.”
    UTC’s Casey Long scored a game and season-high 19, while Mays added 13. Chattanooga shot 50 percent for the game and led 28-27 at the half.
    “Tonight was like we were walking in mud — it was hard, just one of those nights,” Graham said. “We couldn’t get anything going. It was just one of those night you throw your hands up and say, ‘What else can we do?’”
    The Eagles were plagued by foul trouble as Graham, Tobias and Diogo Salazar were forced to sit late in the second half.
    “Foul trouble has hurt us all year,” Price said. “We are not deep enough to have three of our better players on the bench down the stretch, and that’s what happened. We have to continue to search for ways to play with our feet and not our hands. The bottom line is we shot 39 percent in here, and Donte Gennie missed his first five 3s that were wide open. That’s unlike him, and that’s the way it was today.”
    Georgia Southern hosts Appalachian State Monday at 7:30 p.m.

speaks at halftime
    New Eagle football coach Chris Hatcher spoke briefly during halftime and was greeted with a rousing standing ovation. “This is your team, and I am proud to be your coach,” Hatcher told the crowd, adding his intent to restore the program’s winning tradition.

    Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.