MACON, Ga. --- Junior Louis Graham (West Palm Beach, Fla.) scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half and Georgia Southern won at Mercer for the first time since 2000, holding on for a 61-59 victory over Mercer Monday evening at the University Center.
Graham notched his second double-double of the season by adding a career-high 17 rebounds. He also set new personal-bests with three assists and four steals, and had three blocks.
He was joined in double figures by senior Donte Gennie (Tallahassee, Fla.) who totaled 16 points. Junior Dwayne Foreman (Apopka, Fla.) added a game-high eight assists.
The Eagles tallied 15 steals as a team and forced 20 turnovers.
Mercer’s James Florence led all scorers with 19 points.
“Every time we come over here it’s (close),” said GSU head coach Jeff Price. “The game’s important to both teams but they always get up to play us.”
Tied 29-29 at the half, GSU controlled the early going in the second half with a 10-4 run thanks to six from Graham and four from senior Jimmy Tobias (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.).
The Eagles’ largest lead after that point was only five, on one occasion. Mercer battled back and took the lead with 6:29 remaining after four straight from Brian Pfoal.
A subsequent 1:32 scoreless drought by both teams was broken by a ‘3’ from Gennie and a lay-in from Graham put GSU up by four, 55-51, with 3:56 remaining.
Mercer answered with baskets by Florence to knot the score again but two Graham lay-ups sandwiched around a Mercer free throw gave the Eagles a three-point lead.
The game was tied for the final time on a trey by Mercer’s Ross Alacqua with 58 seconds left. Both teams had a chance to take the lead on their next possession, but a miss by Florence gave Georgia Southern the ball with 16 seconds left. Gennie converted a tough shot with 14 seconds on the clock and a ‘3’ by Florence at the buzzer failed to draw rim.
“It was a close game but I’m proud of our guys for finding a way to win a defensive-type game,” said Price. “I left our upperclassmen in the last four minutes and said ‘It’s your game to win’ and we did.”
Graham and Gennie combined to score the team’s final 13 points of the contest, spanning the last 7:19. Prior to Gennie’s game-winning shot, Graham hit three-straight shots.
“I thought we had to get the ball inside because we were shooting so poorly and I thought Louis came up huge,” Price added. “He made some big baskets and some huge rebounds. We have to get it done in there if we’re not shooting from the perimeter, but it is a team thing and we have to find a way to make shots. We were getting open but we just weren’t knocking them down.”
Georgia Southern dominated the first four minutes and the last four minutes of the first half, but in between it was all Mercer.
The Eagles jumped out to a 9-2 lead behind four points from junior Ryan Hynes (Paso Robles, Calif.) and a ‘3’ from Gennie. Hynes started and finished the run with a lay-up.
The Bears took over from there, rallying with seven straight points to tie the contest, then following two Tobias free throws, reeled off nine more points for a 17-11 lead.
Lay-ups from Gennie and Graham cut the deficit to two, but a trifecta by Alacqua and a jumper from Shaddean Aaron gave the Bears their biggest lead of the game, 25-15.
GSU went to work on Mercer’s nine-point advantage (26-17), starting with a Gennie 3-pointer, then a thunderous dunk from sophomore Anthony Marshall (Lake Worth, Fla.) off an alley-oop pass from the hands of Foreman.
Mercer answered with a free throw, but a 7-0 run put the Eagles back on top, 29-27. Freshman Antoine Johnson (Atlanta, Ga.) capped the rally with a rainbow ‘3’ from the right-wing.
“We have to find a way to score better and we did it in the first half out of our defense,” said Price. “We started pressing and the press really helped us get going offensively and get some easy baskets. We’re just missing so many open shots and that’s very unlike our team. We’ve always been a high-powered offensive team and we’re not making shots.”
The Eagles return to action Saturday, completing the home-and-home series with a road contest at Winston-Salem State. Tip-off is set for 2:30 p.m.
- GSU -