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The Byington era begins

The Byington era begins

The Byington era begins

Georgia Southern head basketball coac...

    It’s no secret that Georgia Southern is playing its last season in the Southern Conference before joining the Sun Belt in 2014.
    That doesn’t mean first-year GSU coach Mark Byington feels the need to talk about it.
    “I haven’t mentioned to our guys one time, ‘Let’s win it on our way out of the SoCon.’ They know what’s going on with our schedule and the league we’re going into, but we’re just going to approach each individual game,” said Byington, who came to the Eagles as an assistant at Virginia Tech and former interim head coach at College of Charleston.
    Byington has the team focused on the task at hand — the Eagles open the season today against Columbia International at 7:30 p.m., in Hanner Fieldhouse, and face Miami on the road on Monday.
“We’re a day to day team,” Byington said. “To break that down even further, we just want to win each possession. Sometimes you get caught up in worrying about what the results are and what’s going to happen in March, and you’re not taking care of what you’re supposed to do right now. We’re a process-oriented team, we’re not a results-oriented team. If we take care of the process, the results will take care of themselves.”
    Charleston has already left the SoCon for the Colonial Athletic Association, so with 11 teams, the league is no longer broken into separate divisions. That bumps back the start of the SoCon schedule for the Eagles, and gives them a chance to play 14-straight non-conference games to open the season.
    “With us, it’s a benefit,” Byington said. “The guys are still learning our style. For our team to develop our identity, it’s going to be good to have our important conference games later on.”
    The Eagles (14-19 in 2012-13) are expected to be led by guard Jelani Hewitt, who received a redshirt last season after coming up ineligible.
    “Ever since I got the job, Jelani Hewitt’s been great,” Byington said. “I’m going to lean on him.”
    Brian Holmes is expected to start at point guard.
    The leading returning scorer is senior guard Tre Bussey, who averaged 8.7 points last season.
    There is very little depth in the post with Eric Ferguson out for the season with injury and Charleston transfer Trent Wiedeman sitting out a year due to the transfer.
    Forwards Kameron Dunnican, Marvin Baynham combined to average 13 minutes and 8 points per game last year.
    Byington brought in junior-college transfers Curtis Diamond and Angel Matias, and freshmen Kyle Doyle and Bryce Woodliff to contribute at forward.
    Byington hopes to see the team play fast and smart.
    “I want guys to get used to playing at a fast pace,” he said. “Now, I’m not branding the program that we’re going to score 100 points and things like that, but strategically, the best time to score on the other team is within the first five to 10 seconds of the shot clock, before they set their defense. After that, we’ve got to be able to get a good shot.”
    Byington doesn’t put too much emphasis on stats, but he does track some. Percentage of rebounds recovered by his team, field-goal percentage allowed and turnovers are the top three categories on his list.
    Though Columbia International is an undersized team from the NAIA, Byington knows better to take them lightly, even with an ACC team on the schedule looming just three days away.
    “One thing you learn when you stay in this business long enough is that there’s good players everywhere,” he said. “Every time we play anybody, they’re going to have good players.”

    Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.

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