It was almost deja vu all over again for the College of Charleston and Georgia Southern. Almost.
Willis Hall scored 18 points and Adjehi Baru added 13 points and 11 rebounds as the College of Charleston held off a furious Georgia Southern rally to beat the Eagles, 69-60, on Saturday at TD Arena.
The Cougars improved to 19-8 and 11-4 in the Southern Conference with just three league game remaining. The Eagles fell to 11-16 and 5-9.
A month ago, the Cougars squandered a four-point lead in the final 2:16 of the game and eventually fell to the Eagles, 51-47, back on Jan. 17 at Statesboro, Ga.
On Saturday, the Cougars had a bigger cushion to work with, leading by as much as 23 points with under eight minutes to play, and this time made a few more crucial plays down the stretch to secure the win.
“Luckily, we stood up to them and put a stop to it,” said Hall. “Anthony (Stitt) and Adjehi made a couple of big plays. I think that’s a big confidence boost for us knowing that when those situations come up again we’ve got guys that can make those plays and make those decisions.”
With 7:47 left in the game, it looked like the Cougars were going to cruise to their 19th win of the season. Baru’s dunk off a beautiful pass from Hall gave the Cougars a 61-38 advantage.
The Eagles responded with 18 unanswered points and closed the gap to 61-56 on C.J. Reed’s jumper with 2:16 to play. Eric Ferguson, who scored a game-high 22 points, had 12 points, including 10 straight, during the Eagles’ run.
“I think we relaxed, I think we lost our intensity,” said Baru, who had 11 rebounds. “It doesn’t matter if we’re up by 30 or 40 points, we can’t relax. We have to play with the same intensity all the time.”
Baru hit a couple of free throws and Stitt connected on a driving layup to push the Cougars’ lead back to 65-57 with 45.8 seconds to play. Baru would put back Stitt’s missed free throw to give the Cougars a 67-57 lead with 42.4 seconds to play.
“Anthony Stitt continues to grow as a player and that’s important for us,” said Cougars coach Doug Wojcik. “He made some big plays down the stretch. I’m not pleased with the way we finished the game, but ultimately we got the win.”
Hall, who was just four points off his career high, carried the Cougars for most the game. The 6-6 forward proved to be a matchup nightmare for Eagles. The Charlotte native connected on both of his 3-point attempts and pulled down six rebounds.
“Willis is a fan favorite, heck, he’s a coach’s favorite as well,” Wojcik said. “It’s important for this team for Willis to score and he had a fantastic game for us tonight.”ww