The Georgia Southern women’s basketball team spent the first three quarters of Saturday’s game against Texas State firing - mostly unsuccessfully — from behind the arc. But fortunes changed over the final 10 minutes as the Eagles caught fire, erasing a 13-point second half deficit and holding off a late Bobcat rally to claim a 71-69 victory at Hanner Fieldhouse.
The Eagles (12-14, 8-7 Sun Belt) connected on just 5 of their 24 long-range attempts in the opening three quarters before drilling three over the final period.
After trailing the entire way, Patrice Butler (24 points, 9 rebounds) drew Georgia Southern even at 50-50 on a tip in following a missed free throw. Angel McGowan (21 points) added another layup to push the Eagles out in front on their next possession.
“We dug in,” GS coach Kip Drown said. “We were tough, mentally, and we’ve grown so much in that area of the game.
“Last year, we lost seven Sun Belt games by seven points or less. This year, we’re winning some of those games. We fought hard to come back and when you look at the shots that we were getting and the shots we were creating down the stretch — that’s what good teams have to do to win close games.”
For a few moments midway through the fourth period, it appeared that the Eagles might coast to the finish line, but Texas State (14-11, 9-5) began hitting some 3’s of its own.
Kaitlin Walla connected from downtown to cut the GS lead to 65-61 with 2:52 to play. A 3 by Toshua Leavitt (22 points) brought Texas State within 67-66 with 1:37 to go, but McGowan answered with a three-point play on the other end.
Not to be deterred, Leavitt drilled another 3 at the 1:00 mark.
The teams traded misses and Texas State inbounded from under the Eagle net with 5.3 seconds to go. Leavitt navigated through screens and was left wide open, but her 25-footer rattled out. Butler hit a free throw after rebounding Leavitt’s miss with 0.7 seconds left and the Bobcats couldn’t get off a last-gasp heave before the final buzzer.
“When I saw her get it, I was like ‘Nooooo’,” McGowan said. “She’s a great shooter who was having a good night. I was glad to see the miss, but I’m even more proud of our team and the way we played to come back.”
“Leaving her open was definitely not the call,” Drown said. “That’s the last person you wanted to see with the ball. But look at all the good shooters for both sides that were out there today. We did what we had to do defensively to come away with the win.”
The 13-point comeback was technically a 14-point comeback when taking the entire game in context.
Texas State came out of the gate on fire, hitting on 5 of its first 8 shots including a trio of 3-pointers. During that span, the Eagles missed their first eight attempts from the field, as well as a pair of foul shots.
“We definitely didn’t start how we wanted to,” McGowan said. “But this team has grown up together and we trust each other. Once we started hitting some shots, it got contagious. Everybody knew we had it in us to come back and win.”
The Eagles don’t have much time to celebrate as they now face their toughest task to date.
On Thursday, Georgia Southern travels to first-place Little Rock (19-7, 13-1). The Eagles then finish out the regular season with road dates at Arkansas State and Georgia State and — as the standings currently sit — could end up seeded anywhere from fourth to 10th in the upcoming Sun Belt Conference tournament.