Bittersweet weekend for Eagles

Katie Tolbert

Georgia Southern University’s men’s basketball team was defeated on the road Thursday 81-74 by Furman University but was victorious at home on Saturday against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga winning 59-57.

“Every game is a learning experience. It’s about three games in March and the preparation for that third season. We’ve had some big, big wins; we’ve had some tough, tough losses. But, we’ve learned from each one and we are getting better as we go,” head coach Charlton Young said.

Both of these games came down to the final seconds of the game, but one was not in the Eagles’ favor. In the game versus the Paladins, GSU struggled in the first half, especially for the six minutes in the first half that it did not make a single shot. At the end of the half, the Eagles trailed by 15 points. GSU was shooting strong in the first half, making 47.8 percent from the field and 60 percent from behind the arc. But Furman still out-shot the Eagles making 72 percent from the field and 66.7 percent from behind the arc.

In the second half, the Eagles came out a different team that was determined to come back. GSU began to put the pressure on Furman’s offense, cutting the Eagles’ deficit to 10 points and forcing several turnovers by the Paladins. GSU went on a 9-0 run to gain the Eagles’ first lead of the game but could not hold it long when Furman made back-to-back threes that would take the lead and the win.

Two days later, the Eagles returned home to play the Mocs, but this game was a complete switch from the previous game. GSU dominated the first half making five threes, four points off of fast breaks and nine points off of the bench, while UTC did not make one point from threes, fast breaks or off of the bench.

“Talking to coach yesterday, coming down the stretch we need to have a lot of energy in the first half and we can’t let these games get away. We need to take one game at a time and have a lot of energy because we come out very slow at the beginning of the game at times,” senior guard C.J. Reed said.

At the beginning of the game, the Eagles did just that when junior forward Eric Ferguson was recognized as a member of the 500-rebound club, which only stimulated the energy level for the GSU team. Within the first five minutes of the game, Reed shined on offense, making three consecutive shots from behind the arc, followed by an assisted alley-oop to Ferguson that sent the GSU fans wild.

Just in the first half, the Eagles had seven members of their team on the board for points and also seven members on the board in rebounding as well. On both sides of the court, GSU was coming together as a team and players were stepping up to make needed contributions.

“It’s great when we get everybody involved; everybody involved makes everybody happy. We play harder as a team, and we are just starting to come together so, it’s a great thing for everybody to get numbers in the scoring,” Reed said.

Starting out the second half, the Eagles had a strong 21-point lead over the Mocs, but that did not last long. UTC began to put pressure on the Eagles and no longer let easy threes pass them by. The Mocs defended the perimeter strong and began their comeback with a 15-5 run making the score 56-52 with less than four minutes on the clock.

With less than one minute left in the half, the Eagles no longer had the lead and were now down by one point. But with 31 seconds on the shot clock and 36.1 seconds left in the game, Ferguson made a three to take the lead and to take the win 59-57.

“The Georgia Southern University hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1992, that’s pre-internet. It’s time for us to get back, and this is year four of us building the program. Last year we finished 12-6, second in the division, got to the quarter-finals, now we are looking to take that next step in tournament play,” Young said.

The Eagles will once again be at home to play against rival Appalachian State University on Thursday, Feb. 7 at 7 p.m.