By Kevin Sweeney
Most mid-major fans are fully aware of Georgia Southern’s high-scoring guard duo of Ike Smith and Tookie Brown. After all, the pair combines to average 37.8 points per game, the highest of any duo in the Sun Belt.
Tonight, junior guard Mike Hughes made it clear that there’s a strong third in the Eagle backcourt, scoring a game-high 20 points and keying a late-game sequence that gave Georgia Southern the lead for good in a 74-70 win over Louisiana-Lafayette on Tuesday night. The win helps the Eagles keep pace with Georgia State and Arkansas State at the top of the Sun Belt.
The Eagles flew out of the gates, using 10-3 and 9-0 runs in the opening 11 minutes to take an early 22-8 advantage. Georgia Southern maintained a double-digit lead for most of the first half, leading by as much as 15, but a late run by the Ragin’ Cajuns swung the momentum in the game.
In the final 2:43 of the first half, Louisiana-Lafayette outscored the Eagles 15-2, including a pair of technical free throws after Smith was T’d up with 1:09 to play in the half. After the Eagles had led by 10 or more for over half of the opening period, their lead had been shaved to just 40-38 as the teams headed to intermission.
The positive momentum continued for the Ragin’ Cajuns when the second half began, as senior Jay Wright, who had 17 points in the game, drained a triple on the team’s first offensive possession of the half to give ULL its first lead of the game. They would maintain that advantage for all but 38 seconds of the next 15:59.
But when it mattered most, Hughes made big play after big play to lead the Eagles to victory. First, it was his steal and dish to Brown that cut a 6 point deficit to 4. Then, it was a triple from Brown (he was 5-8 from downtown in the game) that trimmed the margin to 58-57 with 7:14 to go.
After the teams traded buckets for a few minutes, it was finally a 3-point play by Smith, who had 18 points, that gave the lead back to the Eagles with 3:14 to go.
ULL didn’t go away, regaining the lead with a pair of free throws by Justin Miller with just over 2 minutes to play.
But there was Hughes again when it mattered most, with this sequence deciding the game. He first knocked down a deep triple with just 2:02 to play that sent Hanner Fieldhouse into a frenzy. Then, after he turned it over himself, Hughes snuck in from behind to steal the ball away from Jerekius Davis and laid it in, giving the Eagles their largest lead since before halftime.
From there, Georgia Southern just had to make their free throws to seal the deal. They did just that, and held on for a 74-70 victory to move to 9-2 in conference play. Meanwhile, the Ragin’ Cajuns fell to just 4-7 in Sun Belt play.
“They [Georgia Southern] caught the breaks at the end, and that’s what happens when a team is in first place.” Louisiana-Lafayette Head Coach Bobby Marlin said. “We’ve got to win some games. We have to make a push here.” (Quotes per ESPN 1420/Twitter)
Leading scorer Frank Bartley was held to just 4-21 from the field for the Ragin’ Cajuns, scoring just 13 points. However, ULL was carried by 18 from Miller, 17 from Wright, and 11 points and 15 rebounds from Bryce Washington.
Hughes’ 20 points led all scorers, while Smith posted 18 points and Brown added 11.