STATESBORO, Ga. - The 3-point attack came alive in the second half to help UTA outlast Georgia Southern 69-60 on Thursday night at Hanner Fieldhouse to begin a two-game trip through Georgia.
The Lady Mavericks connected on just two of their 17 attempts in the first half, but knocked down five of 10 in the final 20 minutes to pull away. UTA improved to 17-6 overall and 10-3 in the Sun Belt. The 10 league wins are one shy of the most in the SBC since joining with five games to go in the regular season.
Georgia Southern (11-14, 7-7 SBC) attempted to mount a comeback late in the contest, trimming what was a 18-point deficit down to just seven. However, UTA answered the call by downing free throws down the stretch.
Cierra Johnson was one of four to reach double figures for UTA. Johnson joined Christina Devers with a team-high 14 points. Johnson finished with eight rebounds, two short of her second double-double of the season. The junior guard had seven in the first half. Devers had four of UTA's seven overall 3-pointers. Crystal Allen knocked down all four of her free-throw attempts as she reached 11 and Rebekah VanDijk battled through foul trouble to reach 12.
UTA was unable to take advantage of 13 first-half turnovers by Georgia Southern to attempt to pull away in the first half. UTA shot just 12-of-38, including 2-of-17 from deep in the opening 20 minutes.
Despite the offense's inability to knock down the shot, the defense was stifling the Eagles transition offense as well as holding a big edge on the boards. UTA outrebounded GS 24-16 in the first half, including a 12-1 advantage on the offensive end.
Johnson and Devers were able to give UTA a spark of offense as VanDijk had to spend over half of the opener on the bench in foul trouble. Johnson produced eight points on eight shots, while Devers knocked down each of UTA's treys, including a buzzer-beater from 10-feet beyond the 3-point line to go into the break.
The Lady Mavericks caught fire from long range late in the third quarter to get some space between themselves and the Eagles. Devers connected on a pair of treys in three trips down the floor and Lauren Billie added another as time expired in the frame. UTA outscored Georgia Southern 23-13 in the third and held GS without a field goal for more than six minutes.
The deep threat continued to propel the attack early in the fourth. Allen got in on the action with her first 3-pointer in seven attempts, she would reach double figures a minute later with a drive through the lane that gave UTA its 15-point advantage once again with six minutes to go.
With the team exchanging long-range attempts midway through the period, Lauren Billie answered the call with another, this time from the opposite side of the floor to force the Eagles into another timeout.
GS made a late charge to try a mount a comeback, but it was too little too late as UTA knocked down all of its free throws in the final minute.
With the offense unable to break the game open, UTA's defense held Georgia Southern at bay for much of the opening period. The Eagles did shot 40 percent in the first 20 minutes with help from four 3-pointers, but GS went two separate spurts without a field goal for more than four minutes. Using the turnover game to help things along, UTA was able to knock down Devers' buzzer-beater to trip a 10-9 deficit in scoring during the second quarter.
The offense was able to catch up with the Lady Maverick defense through the third quarter. UTA reversed the first-half woes from deep by knocking down three 3-pointers in the final three minutes of the period. Devers connected on back-to-back attempts to give UTA a 14-point advantage. Lauren Billie knocked another buzzer-beater down to end the frame as she hit from the corner to give UTA a 15-point advantage going to the final 10 minutes.
UTA outscored GS 38-14 in points in the paint and 27-16 in points off turnovers. ... UTA shot 42.9 percent overall, while GS bested it at 44.2, but had 21 less attempts. ... UTA forced 22 turnovers to match its season average. The Lady Mavs entered seventh in the nation in turnovers forced per game. ... VanDijk scored 10 points to achieve double figures in 22 of 23 games.
The two-game road trip continues when the Lady Mavericks head to Atlanta for a date with Georgia State on Saturday. The contest is featured on ESPN3 and tips at 11 a.m. CT.
The 2017 Sun Belt Conference Men's and Women's Basketball Championships are scheduled for a week of March Madness in the Big Easy. New Orleans will once again be home to the two championships that will take place at Lakefront Arena from March 7-12 and ticket books can now be purchased from your school's ticket office. For more information, visit the Sun Belt Conference's championship central websites - Men's Championship - Women's Championship - and be sure to follow the #FunBelt on social media - @SunBelt.
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