STATESBORO — In a game that was horrendous on both sides with turnovers and missed shots, it seemed like the first team that hit 40 points was going to win.
Jelani Hewitt hit a free throw with six seconds remaining and the Georgia Southern Eagles hit the magic number, defeating Texas State, 40-36, on Saturday in the Sun Belt Conference home opener for GSU.
“Games like this are hard. It’s hard when you have trouble scoring,” GSU coach Mark Byington said. “Our guys never got down, they stayed the course, and they found a way to win at the end of it.”
It was the first SBC win in program history for the Eagles (8-3, 1-1), which joined the league this season.
“It’s huge,” fifth-year senior Eric Ferguson said. “We were in the locker room and going crazy about this one. We protected the house, and now we have to go back out on the road and get one back.”
Ferguson, playing in only his fifth game of the season, had 10 points and seven rebounds and made all of them count.
Ferguson gave the Eagles a brief 30-29 lead on an authoritative slam following a missed Hewitt 3-pointer attempt, and after Texas State (7-4, 1-1) got back ahead, 33-30, Ferguson and Hewitt both blocked Bobcats shots to set up a Hewitt 3-pointer on the other end to tie the score.
It was the only basket for Hewitt, who scored seven of his 10 points from the free-throw line. Hewitt, who averaged 26 points per contest against non-conference, Division I competition this season, has scored just 18 total in two games against Sun Belt competition.
Trent Wiedeman led the Eagles with 12 points and hit a pair of free throws to put GSU ahead for good with 1:57 to go.
“I missed the front end of a one-and-one not long before that, so I really wanted to make those,” Wiedeman said with relief.
The Eagles, a 75 percent free-throw shooting team, went 13 for 20. They shot 30 percent from the floor in the game — slightly better than Texas State’s 27 percent.
Nobody wanted to score in the game’s first 12 minutes, 57 seconds. Texas State built a 13-4 lead while the Eagles went 1 of 10 from the floor and turned it over 10 times. The Bobcats managed to surpass that number in the same span with 12 turnovers.
The Eagles went on an 11-plus minute scoring drought, which finally was snapped with a Wiedeman jumper that woke the Eagles up at the 7:03 mark. A 13-3 run that included a pair of Ferguson 3s gave GSU a 17-16 lead.
“We need Eric to shoot the 3,” Byington said. “I tell him he has to take 100 3s every single day. It’s for him and it’s for us. He’s going to get rebounds and block shots. But I want him to be able to shoot the 3-point shot. He said he shot 150 yesterday, so maybe that helped out.”
The run was capped when Ferguson blocked a D.J. Brown 3-point shot, corralled the loose ball and dished it to Mike Hughes who slammed it home at the other end.
The Bobcats led, 21-19, at halftime.
The Eagles won the rebounding battle, 40-36. Both teams finished with 18 turnovers.
Georgia Southern is back in action on Thursday at Arkansas State. The Eagles play five of the next six on the road.
The Texas State Lady Bobcats spoiled Georgia Southern’s Sun Belt home opener Saturday with a 79-65, wire-to-wire win at Hanner Fieldhouse.
The Bobcats (7-5, 2-0 Sun Belt) led by as many as 20, and GSU (3-8, 0-2) never got closer than nine in a second half that saw Texas State shoot 52 percent from the floor.
Ayreil Anderson led Texas State with 16 points and drilled three of her five 3-point attempts.
Patrice Butler had a monster second half for the Eagles and kept them in the game. Butler scored a career-high 24 points in the contest after finishing the first half with four. She made a 3 and was 11 for 11 from the foul line.
“Patrice is a very skilled and smart player,” GSU coach Chris Vozab said, “and she played with tremendous confidence and aggressiveness today.”
Angel McGowan finished with 18 points, including a pair of 3s.