Playing for the first time in front of their home crowd at Hanner Fieldhouse this season, the Georgia Southern men’s basketball team put on a show.
Six Eagles scored at least seven points and the team shot an impressive 54.7 percent from the field as Georgia Southern (1-1) cruised to a 92-43 victory over Coastal Georgia Monday night.
Things didn’t go nearly as well for Coastal as the Mariners shot just 23.1 percent on the night. Brandon Martin (15 points) and Haylen Washington (13) each had solid nights, but the rest of the Coastal squad combined to go just 4-for-37 from the field.
The Mariners (0-1) scored the game’s first two points and went back-and-forth with the Eagles for a good portion of the first half, but Georgia Southern eventually seized control. Leading 13-11 with just over 11 minutes to play in the first half, the Eagles locked down on defense and forced the ball inside for easy buckets, building a 38-18 lead by halftime.
“We came out a little tight - same as our first game,” GS coach Mark Byington said. “We worked through some things early and got going. We did some good things - mostly defensively - and were glad to get a win in front of our home crowd.”
For a second consecutive game, Ike Smith was red hot from the field. The sophomore connected on seven of his first nine shots and finished 9-for-12 from the field for a game-high 23 points. Smith also tallied a pair of assists, the loudest of which came on an alley-oop to Shawn O’Connell (9 points, 6 assists) as the Eagles pulled away early in the second half.
Dunks were a common sight Monday night as Smith, O’Connell and B.J. Gladden (15 points) all got through the Mariner defense for two-handed jams.
Dunking aside, there was plenty more damage being done by the Eagles close to the Coastal Georgia basket. Georgia Southern totaled 48 points in the paint on the night.
“Coach tells us to be aggressive on offense and defense,” Smith said. “When we had the ball, we wanted to attack the basket. We also talk about finishing all the time. When we got the ball under the basket, we finished.”
Many of the Eagles’ easy looks inside could have been due to the fact that the Mariners spent plenty of energy on offense.
Georgia Southern employed a press and trapping defense that forced the Mariners to work the ball up the floor. Once into their set, the Eagle defense stayed active, forcing low-percentage shots just before the shot clock expired on several occasions.
“The defense was great,” Byington said. “Sometimes the execution was a little sloppy, but the effort was there, so that’s about the only complaint I can have. I don’t know how many shot clock violations we got, but the buzzer went off quite a few times and that tells you that you’re playing solid defense.”
In all, the Eagle defense forced 22 turnovers and scored 38 points off of the Mariners’ misfortune.
Moving forward, most of the Eagles’ focus on improvements will come on the offensive end. Georgia Southern is playing with a different lineup with star guard Mike Hughes still serving a three-game suspension and little things like free throws (GS was just 13-for-16 from the line Monday) kept the win from being even more decisive.
“We’ve got work to do,” Byington said. “We’re still getting comfortable with some of our sets. One thing we have to do is move the ball better. We only had three assists in the first half. We got 13 in the second, so we improved later in the game and need to keep that up.”
The Eagles won’t play again at Hanner until Dec. 4, but they also won’t be straying too far from home.
Georgia Southern’s next four games will be a part of the brand new Savannah Invitational. The Eagles will play at Mercer on Sunday and at Akron Nov. 22 in the first two games of the tournament before coming to Savannah for games against Florida A&M and Radford on Nov. 25 and 26, respectively.
The Eagles will then play a road game at Savannah State Dec. 1 before returning to Hanner to take on recent NCAA tournament cinderella Florida Gulf Coast.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.