The Georgia Southern men’s basketball team tipped off its 2018-19 regular season Wednesday night at Hanner Fieldhouse, but for most of the night things rarely seemed like anything more than a dress rehearsal.
The Eagles nearly tripled up their opponents from Carver College, breezing to a 139-51 victory that fell just two points short of the largest winning margin in program history.
“It’s great to get the season underway.,” GS coach Mark Byington said. “Our guys put in a ton of hard work in the offseason and they were anxious to get out and play. We played hard and did things the right way, but the biggest thing was to see our culture come together with the way our guys shared the ball and the emotion.”
Georgia Southern (1-0) enters the season with a deep and experienced roster that is one of the most dynamic in program history. The lineup - which figures to feature at least 10 players on a nightly basis - profiles as a huge offensive threat, but not much was needed in the way of shooting or innovative offense as the Eagle defense set the tone all night.
The Eagles forced 29 turnovers by the Cougars (0-1) and racked up 21 steals on the night. And those steals weren’t tipped balls or contended dribbles in the GS paint. The majority of the action featured thievery far away from the Eagle basket in open space, leading to immediate scoring opportunities as evidenced by Georgia Southern’s incredible 104 points in the paint.
“We’re long and athletic and we like to put the pressure on teams,” Byington said. “And once we get the ball, we’re going to play fast. We put up points in our exhibition game and we scored well over 100 in a scrimmage with College of Charleston. We’ve got a lot of guys who can score and we’re going to get up and down the court.”
While everyone got in on the fun — evidenced by the eight Eagles who scored in double-digits — it was Quan Jackson who stole the show on opening night.
The sophomore guard scored 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting from the field while pulling down nine rebounds, notching a school-record eight steals and dishing out five assists.
“It was a fun night, and I’m happy,” Jackson said. “It’s great to have a good scoring night, but that’s not all I look at. Winning is what’s most important to me and to everyone on the team, so anything I do to help is good for me.”
Preseason All-Sun Belt selection and possible SBC Player of the Year candidate Tookie Brown had a somewhat quiet night. Brown scored 11 points and handed out five assists in 24 minutes of action.
But it was the unquestioned team leader’s ability to observe and direct things away from the stat sheet that had his coach happy at the end of the night.
“Tookie could have scored 40 if he wanted to,” Byington said. “Instead, he helped everyone get in on the action and helped some of our younger guys when they were in the game. That’s what you want to see out of a leader.”
Among returning impact players from last season, Ike Smith scored 17 and Montae Glenn recorded a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. David Lee Jones Jr. may have had the most efficient night of any Eagle, scoring 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting and hitting on all three of his attempts from behind the arc.
As for the newcomers, Isaiah Crawley found himself in the starting lineup and scored 15 points, with nine rebounds also tucked away. Crawley was one board short of another double-double for the Eagles and redshirt freshman Tyshaun Crawford also narrowly missed that benchmark, scoring 14 and pulling down eight rebounds in just 12 minutes of action.
“It’s a total team effort,” Jackson said. “The chemistry is great. I feel like a leader this season and we have older guys who are great, but the newer guys are battling hard and we play really well together.”
While played in the cozy confines of Hanner Fieldhouse, Wednesday’s game was technically a part of the Islands of the Bahamas Showcase in which the Eagles are participating. Georgia Southern will play another home game as part of the tournament next Tuesday as George Mason comes to town. From there, Georgia Southern will pack up its passports and fly to Nassau for the final three games of the event.