STATESBORO, Ga. – It was quite the homecoming for Louisiana’s JaKeenan Gant.
Playing a half-hour from his hometown of Springfield, Ga., Gant scored a game-high 22 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, dished out a career-best five assists and blocked five shots – including a key rejection in the final seconds – to help Louisiana claim an 87-85 victory over Georgia Southern in a Sun Belt Conference game on Saturday at Hanner Fieldhouse.
Louisiana (11-6, 2-2 SBC) made 11 of 12 free throws in the second half, including nine in the final 2:04 to earn a split on its two-game road trip to the state of Georgia. Gant made 9 of 17 shots from the floor, was 2-for-4 from behind the 3-point line and broke an 80-all tie with a pair of free throws with 1:16 left.
“We hung together and it was a total team effort,” head coach Bob Marlin said. “In the first half, we changed defenses and it helped us. They shot a bunch 3’s where they haven’t been as good as they’ve been in the past.
“I was really happy that we got off to a good start in the second half and made some shots. We knew they would make a comeback, they’ve won five games where they trailed by double figures. We knew they would drive (to the basket) and the crowd would get into it, and that’s exactly what happened. We got a big basket late from P.J. (Hardy) to go back up and we made our free throws down the stretch.”
The Ragin’ Cajuns closed out the first half on a 21-9 run to take a 44-35 lead at halftime and stretched their lead to 55-38 on Jerekius Davis’ 3-pointer with 17:34 remaining.
Georgia Southern (10-7, 2-2 SBC), which rallied from 14 points down for a last-second 79-78 victory over ULM on Thursday, rallied to take a 72-71 lead on a bucket by Tookie Brown with 5:09 left before both teams dueled it out the rest of the way.
Brown, who finished with 21 points, gave the Eagles an 80-78 lead with a bucket in the lane with 1:44 left before Louisiana tied the game on the following possession when Marcus Stroman sank a pair of free throws with 1:33 left.
Louisiana reclaimed the lead after Quan Jackson missed a 3-pointer from the corner and Gant hauled in the rebound and was fouled. The 6-foot-8 senior gave the Ragin’ Cajuns an 82-80 lead and after Georgia Southern’s Calvin Wishart missed a 3-point attempt, Stroman drove the lane and rolled in a bucket for an 84-80 advantage with 28 seconds left.
Jackson cut the lead to 84-83 with a 3-pointer on Georgia Southern’s following possession before Stroman was eventually fouled and sank a pair of free throws with 11 seconds remaining for an 86-83 lead.
Georgia Southern quickly drove the ball down the court and Brown drove the lane attempting to cut the lead to one, but Gant rejected the shot and Jeremy Hayes grabbed the rebound to help seal the win.
Davis came off the bench to score 17 points for Louisiana, which finished 28-for-61 (46 percent) from the floor and 13-for-30 (43 percent) from behind the 3-point line. The Ragin’ Cajuns sank 18 of 22 free throws (82 percent) for the game, including an 11-for-12 performance in the second half.
Stroman and P.J. Hardy each added 12 points for Louisiana with Cedric Russell and Justin Miller scoring nine points each. Miller pulled down 12 rebounds and dished out five assists for the Ragin’ Cajuns.
Jackson scored 21 points for Georgia Southern, which finished 32-for-70 (36 percent) from the floor and 6-for-28 (21 percent) from behind the 3-point line. Isaiah Crawley posted a double-double for the Eagles with 13 points and 10 rebounds while Montae Glenn came off the bench to score 10 points.
Louisiana will return to action on Saturday (Jan. 19) when it concludes its three-game roadtrip with a contest at SBC opponent ULM in Monroe. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m., with the game being streamed live on ESPN+.
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