Friday's SoCon Scores
VMI 82, The Citadel 71
Chattanooga 119, Covenant 56
#4 Duke 111, Davidson 77
UNC Greensboro 82, High Point 74
NC State 98, Appalachian State 77
West. Carolina 77, Wittenberg 55
Georgia 72, Wofford 52
Elon 114, Washington & Lee 64
Furman 66, Sewanee 49
Samford 79, Martin Methodist 62
Georgia Tech 88, Presbyterian 57
The Mark Byington era started with a bang.
So did the return of Jelani Heweitt.
Byington coached his first regular-season game as Georgia Southern’s coach, Hewitt returned from an academic redshirt year to tune of 25 points, and the Eagles dismantled Columbia International 110-74 in the season opener Friday at Hanner Fieldhouse.
The Eagles shot 57 percent from the floor in the win, and six players reached double digits, but Byington hesitated to take too much from the win over the undersized Rams.
“Columbia was a little undermanned tonight, so I’m a little worried that some of the shots won’t be true looks down the road,” Byington said. “But I liked the aggressiveness of our guys. We shared the ball early. We’ll keep getting better and better.”
The Eagles tallied 18 assists, and dominated the boards, out-rebounding CIU 50-35.
Junior-college transfer Angel Matias (12 rebounds, 10 points) and freshman Kyle Doyle (11 rebounds, 11 points) both recorded a double-double.
The only apparent weakness for the Eagles came from the free-throw line, where they shot just 13 of 21 in the first half, and made only 63 percent of their 43 attempts in the game.
“We have some guys who are better free throw shooters than they were tonight,” Byington said. “We were a little better in the second half, but we’ll be fine with that. There’s going to be games won or lost at the free-throw line, and we need to make sure we cash in when we get there.”
Hewitt had the hot hand to start the game. The Eagles missed the last six 3-point attempts of the first half, but came out of the gate hot, drilling four of the first five tries of the game. Hewitt was 3 of 6 in the first 20 minutes and finished 9 of 16 from the floor.
“It felt good being back out here, seeing the fans and playing for my family and my teammates,” said Hewitt. “It felt good.”
The game started with authority, when point guard Brian Holmes fielded the opening tip and threw it up for an alley-oop for a Marvin Baynham dunk to open the scoring.
Bynham finished with 16 points.
The Rams never led, and trailed by as many as 28 in the first half before Zach Durkee scored with five seconds left to leave CIU trailing 61-35 at the half.
Midway through the first half, GSU went on an 18-5 tear that featured a pair of steals by Hewitt and Matias that each resulted in Tre Bussey dunks at the other end.
Bussey was second on the team with 20 points and the Eagles forced 16 turnovers.
Junior-college transfer Curtis Diamond scored 16 points and added four assists and three steals in his debut.
“The guys will get tired of me for saying this, but we’re always going to try and win the possession we’re on,” Byington said. “We’re going to ignore the score and we’re going to play to the very end. That’s how we want to play.”
The undersized Rams chucked up 3-point attempts early and often, finishing 11 of 38 from long distance.
Ben Johnson scored 20 points to lead CIU, and Ryan Gibson added 17 for the Rams.
The Eagles get right back to work on Monday, traveling south to face Miami. Miami opened the season late Friday night against St. Francis, and Byington and the GSU coaches were watching. They didn’t enjoy the season-opening win for long.
“It feels good. Take it and move on,” Byington said after the game. “We’re watching Miami play at 10 p.m., and we’ll rally the troops, get down there and play the best game we can.”
Tipoff against the Hurricanes is scheduled for 7 p.m.
NOTES: Georgia Southern’s 61 first-half points were more than the Eagles scored in a game 14 times last season. … Columbia International suffered its program’s first-ever loss, having entered the game 2-0 in the National Christian College Athletics Association. The Rams are in their first year of competition. … The last time GSU reached 100 points was a 101-84 win over Reinhardt on Nov. 18, 2010 in Hanner. The Eagles’ 110 points is the most they’ve scored in a game since beating UC Davis 116-73 on Nov. 12, 2006. … Hewitt’s 25 points came three shy of his career high 28 points in his first game in Hanner FIeldhouse on Nov. 15, 2010. … Announced attendance was 1,211.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.