Georgia Southwestern guard Jamon Hawkins shoots a layup during Thursday’s game against Fort Valley State. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
AMERICUS — Through the first six weeks of the season, the Georgia Southwestern Hurricanes rattled off 10 straight wins for their best start since joining the NCAA thanks to late-game heroics in more than half of their games.
On Thursday, it was Fort Valley State’s Joshuah Davis who stepped into the spotlight in the final moments and put an end to GSW’s record start.
With 4.6 seconds left, Davis hit a 3-pointer from the corner to lift the Wildcats to a 73-70 victory and send the Hurricanes into the holiday break with their first loss of the season.
“Once they swung the ball to (a wide-open Davis), all I could do was drop my head and think of the worst,” said GSW’s Darius Redding, who came off the bench to lead the Hurricanes with 18 points. “You just know as a shooter when it’s going to go in and when it’s not going to go in. I kind of figured that one was going in.”
The nationally ranked No. 18 Hurricanes (10-1) blew a 14-point lead in the first half and led the entire second half until Davis’ game winner.
It was a stunning end to what had become a historic start for GSW.
“It was probably their best shooter on their team that we kind of lost there off a ball screen,” GSW coach Mike Leeder said about Davis’ game-winner. “We have played a lot of close games this season and have been fortunate on the other end. … (Thursday) it just didn’t go our way.”
Seven of GSW’s 10 wins to start the season were by six or fewer points, including a 79-77 overtime victory at Fort Valley State on Nov. 12.
But instead of putting the game away in the closing minutes like they had done for the past month, the Hurricanes went scoreless in the final 2:50. Derrick Dawkins missed a runner in the lane with 35 seconds left that would have given the Hurricanes the lead, and then Kevin Burnell missed a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have sent the game into overtime.
GSW led by as many as 12 points early in the second half and was up by eight with 4:20 left, but Fort Valley ended the game on a 13-2 run.
“Coming out in the second half up by 11, we need to come out with the intention of playing lock-down (defense) and paying attention to details,” Redding said. “We got caught sleeping (Thursday).”
GSW’s starting five shot just 14-for-34 from the field, but it was Redding who came off the bench to provide the scoring. The junior from Tallahassee, Fla., was 7-for-7 from the field and scored nine of GSW’s final 14 points.
“When they tell me when it’s time to get going, I am one who needs to step up,” Redding said. “That’s how I felt (Thursday).”
While Leeder criticized his team’s shot selection down the stretch as Fort Valley chipped away at the lead, it was the Hurricanes’ ability to spread the wealth on offense that helped them build their first-half lead.
Fort Valley State (4-5) jumped ahead early and stretched its lead to as many as seven points in the opening 10 minutes behind Brandon Davey, who scored 11 of his game-high 24 points in the first eight minutes.
However, a Johathan Brooks field goal with 11:09 left in the first half sparked a GSW run that allowed the Hurricanes to pull away. Brooks’ bucket was followed by a 3-pointer from Burnell and a go-ahead field goal from Derrick Dawkins to give GSW a 23-22 lead — and the Hurricanes wouldn’t trail again until the final possession.
Over the next nine minutes, the Hurricanes went on a 24-2 run and were only scored on when Davey grabbed an offensive rebound and put it back up for two points.
The Hurricanes took a 40-29 lead into halftime after eight GSW players scored in the first 20 minutes and five scored at least five points.
Davis finished the game with 11 points and eight rebounds, and Burnell came off the bench to score 11 points for the Hurricanes, who are off until Jan. 4 when they travel to Young Harris College.