Coming into my tenth game in three days I was really hoping to see a close game. In the previous nine games I had seen, the total margin of victory was 152 points. Granted, all of them weren't snoozers, but I had only seen one game that was decided by less than double digits and that was the previous game between Furman and Samford which was a nine point win for the Paladins.
It may have just been the law of averages catching up with me. I did see a ton of regular season games that went down to the wire and rarely saw any blowouts. I just figured that in the tournament setting that there would be a greater sense of urgency to avoid that final loss. Unfortunately that hadn't been the case in some instances where teams went out without much of a fight.
Georgia Southern and Chattanooga would be the teams that would hopefully break the slump of non-close games for me. This would be my first chance to see a UTC team on the season that had been going through a rough stretch where they had lost 11 of 13. Not exactly what Mocs fans were hoping for considering they were picked to win their division at the beginning of the year.
I'd seen Georgia Southern a week ago in Charleston so the team was a bit fresh on the memory. They were down by a huge margin early against CofC, but were able to battle back to make it a close game. I was hoping they would carry over that fortitude if something similar happened against UTC.
I was glad to see there was a decent crowd on both sides for each team. GSU is quite a drive from Asheville, but with it being Friday night, I'm guessing a lot of people were making it a long weekend trip out of it.
All signs towards a competitive game weren't looking good early on when the Mocs started dominating. Georgia Southern had 10 points in the first 10 minutes and big man Eric Ferguson had 8 of those. The rest of the Eagles were throwing up bricks while UTC had a 24-10 advantage.
The game then progressed much like the rest of the SoCon first rounders I had seen on the day. The trailing team would come back and look like they were going to tie the game and take the lead until the team with the advantage would slowly pull back ahead. The same thing happened here after a Tre Bussey 3 had the score at 31-28 for the Mocs. UTC's Ronrico White would make sure that's as close as they would get and gave Chattanooga an eight point advantage going into halftime.
Going into the 2nd I was wondering why the Eagles stopped going to Ferguson since he was dominating early and wasn't seen from much late in the half. The Eagles must have realized that as well since they went to him early and often. UTC couldn't stop him and he was getting help this time around when Ben Drayton tied the game at 46.
From that point on the game got very sloppy, GSU was getting a ton of fouls called on them and the Mocs were in the 1 and 1 with 15 minutes to go. Chattanooga was living at the line and one field goal in a 13 minute span yet still had a 4 point lead over the Eagles.
A Drayton 3 got GSU to within one and I was praying that UTC wouldn't run away after Georgia Southern had gotten so close. Thankfully, an exciting series of plays ensued where Drayton took the lead, but Jahmal Burroughs had it right back for the Mocs seconds later. GSU got an offensive board the next possesion and a 3 from Jessie Pernell caused the loudest cheer of the day from the Southern fans.
Georgia Southern maintained a small lead into the final media timeout and that's all I really wanted. It didn't matter to me who ended up winning; I was just able to see a game with some drama until the end.
After a Dontay Hampton 3 put UTC down only 2 with under a minute to go I was thinking I might be able to see a last second shot opportunity, but White ended up fouling Ferguson unnecessarily. Ferguson was clutch and sank both free throws. UTC didn't have a chance to respond and turned the ball over in the backcourt. The Eagles put up two more free throws and apparently the 6 point lead with 20 seconds to go was too much for the Mocs to handle as they didn't even foul.
I didn't get a chance to follow Chattanooga much during the season, but I'm guessing these types of games were commonplace for UTC in their disappointing season. GSU came back strong and it was nice to see a team finally overcome a big lead. I figured Georgia Southern would have a good chance at beating Elon the next day, but it would be for not as the Phoenix were able to elimate the Eagles.
I'll admit it wasn't the most exciting day of hoops, but the final game was worth it to see a back and forth battle. Only one of the eight teams I saw is still alive as I'm writing this in Western Carolina so one could say these games don't really matter, but at least the SoCon gives everyone a chance and it's also a good reason to visit a great city like Asheville.
GEORGIA SOUTHERN 76, CHATTANOOGA 70 03/02/2012
CHATTANOOGA 11-21 (5-13) -- K. Bell 2-9 6-6 11; J. Burroughs 6-11 3-5 15; D. Zlovaric 3-6 0-0 6; D. Hampton 1-4 10-12 13; R. Taylor 2-6 2-3 6; R. White 4-8 2-4 12; Z. Mason 0-3 2-2 2; O. Wattad 1-5 3-3 5; L. Stokes 0-0 0-0 0; J. Bryant 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 19-53 28-35 70. GEORGIA SOUTHERN 15-14 (12-6) -- E. Ferguson 9-13 8-10 26; J. Hewitt 6-15 0-1 15; J. Pernell 2-4 0-0 6; T. Bussey 2-8 4-4 10; C. Baskerville 1-3 3-4 5; B. Drayton III 4-10 3-4 12; W. Powers III 1-3 0-2 2; M. Baynham 0-1 0-0 0; K. Dunnican 0-0 0-0 0; T. Brown 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-57 18-25 76.
Three-point goals: CHAT 4-18 (K. Bell 1-6; O. Wattad 0-3; D. Hampton 1-2; R. Taylor 0-3; J. Burroughs 0-1; R. White 2-3), GS 8-23 (B. Drayton 1-5; E. Ferguson 0-2; J. Hewitt 3-7; T. Bussey 2-5; J. Pernell 2-4); Rebounds: CHAT 37 (J. Burroughs 13), GS 29 (J. Hewitt 9); Assists: CHAT 8 (K. Bell 4), GS 17 (J. Hewitt 5); Total Fouls -- CHAT 20, GS 28; Fouled Out: CHAT-None; GS-None.