GAME NOTES: With their sights set on a spot in the semifinals of the 2014 Southern Conference Tournament, the second-seeded Chattanooga Mocs match up with the seventh-seeded Georgia Southern Eagles at U.S. Cellular Center.
Chattanooga nearly lost control of the No. 2 seed, but was able to secure the position with wins over Georgia Southern and Appalachian State in its last two games. The Mocs, who lost four of five prior to those two victories, finished 18-13 overall and 12-4 against the rest of the conference.
Georgia Southern was not lucky enough to have a bye in the first round of the tournament. The Eagles made quick work of their foe on Friday though, defeating 10th-seeded Furman, 65-50. The win was a nice change of pace for the team, as it lost six of its last eight games to end the regular season.
Recently, Georgia Southern has had Chattanooga's number, with wins in five straight against the Mocs, including a 77-61 triumph on the road in the only meeting this season. However, Chattanooga still leads the all-time series by a count of 30-20. The winner of this matchup will face either Wofford or The Citadel next, depending on the outcome of that quarterfinal contest.
Jelani Hewitt and Tre Bussey were at it again for Georgia Southern in the first round, scoring 20 and 14 points, respectively, to lead the team to victory. The Eagles held the Paladins to just 36.4 percent shooting in the contest, while sinking an even 50 percent of their own field goal tries.
Hewitt (20 ppg, 3.2 apg) is the league's leading scorer and is joined by Bussey (16.2 ppg) to form one of the more lethal combinations in the country. Friday's performance was a good sign for Hewitt, who recovered from a difficult night in the season finale against The Citadel, when he had only 10 points on 4-of-20 shooting in a loss. Bussey was able to return to his position as the second option in that first-round tilt, after he tallied a season-high 29 points on 12-of-21 shooting from the field against The Citadel. Unfortunately, there is not much depth for the Eagles, who do not feature another player scoring more than 8.8 ppg.
Z. Mason led the way yet again for the Mocs in their 63-44 season-ending victory over Appalachian State. He finished with 24 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks, as Chattanooga made up for a poor shooting effort (.377) by limiting the Mountaineers to just 30.6 percent efficiency.
Although Davidson's De'Mon Brooks earned SoCon Player of the Year honors, Mason was certainly one of his biggest challengers. The 6-foot-6 forward leads the league in rebounding (9.5 ppg) and blocked shots (3 bpg), and is fourth in in scoring. Casey Jones (12.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Ronrico White (11.2 ppg) and Gee McGhee (10.4 ppg) also get in on the action. McGhee chipped in 11 points against Appalachian State and White tallied 10. All told, Chattanooga is the second-best scoring team in the SoCon (76.4 ppg), while Mason has helped it attain the top spot on the glass (37.4 rpg).
When these teams met earlier this season, Bussey and Hewitt combined for 49 points on 19-of-34 shooting. The Eagles' duo will need to be just as stellar in this one as Georgia Southern doesn't have an answer for Mason on the inside.
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