FLORENCE, SC – The North Georgia men's basketball team held a double-digit second-half lead on Wednesday evening, but could not hold off a late rally by Francis Marion University as the Patriots pulled away late for a 74-67 victory at the Smith Center in Peach Belt Conference action.
The Saints drop their second game in their last three contests, falling to 8-13 overall and 5-7 in Peach Belt Conference play. The win sends the Patriots to 14-7 on the year and a game over the .500 mark at 7-6 in league action.
The lead changed hands six times in the first 10 minutes with neither team leading by more than three points, including the Saints pulling ahead by a 21-18 margin at the 9:28 mark on a three-pointer by Pat Moynihan. The long ball sparked a 5-0 run by the Saints, capped by a pair of free throws from Elijah Smith to give North Georgia a 23-18 lead.
The Saints continued to pull away following the run, leading by as many as seven points on a jumper from Carl Taylor, but the Patriots answered and cut the North Georgia advantage to three points on two different occasions over the final minutes of the half.
North Georgia would score the final six points of the period however, using a three-pointer from Taylor and free throws from Smith and Jon Nolton to send the Saints to their largest lead of the period at 36-27 heading to intermission.
The Saints continued to surge in the opening minutes of the second half, pulling out to a double-digit lead at the 17:41 mark when Taylor got free and drilled another jumper from behind the arc, giving North Georgia an 11-point lead at 41-30.
Francis Marion rallied back with an 11-2 run over the next four minutes, using back-to-back buckets from Liki Turner to pull the Patriots to within a pair at 43-41.
The lead was up for grabs over the next five minutes as both teams held an advantage at four different points, but Carl Taylor had an answer every step of the way, knocking down a pair three-pointers in a three-minutes span, both times shifting the lead in the direction of North Georgia.
Taylor continued to keep the Saints in it late, drilling his eighth three-pointer of the night at the 2:02 mark to knot the score up once again, this time at 65-65. The Saints would be ice cold from there however, scoring just two points over the final two minutes as the Patriots ended the game on a 9-2 run to escape with a seven point victory.
Taylor tied his season and career-high with eight three-pointers in a game, finishing with a game-high 26 points on 8-for-16 shooting from long range, while adding three rebounds in 36 minutes of action. Smith added 18 points as the only other North Georgia player in double figures, coming a rebound shy of his fifth double-double of the season.
FMU's Turner scored 24 points and added 16 rebounds for the game's only double-double, while Domnique Coleman and Bryant Julious tallied 18 and 17 points respectively to round out the Patriots' double-digit scorers.
The Saints return to action over the weekend, welcoming UNC Pembroke to town for another Peach Belt Conference contest on Saturday afternoon. Tip-off against the Braves is set for 3:30 p.m. in Memorial Hall.