Georgia Southern came in on a three-game losing streak and facing a Davidson team that is defending a league title and was undefeated in the Southern Conference on the season.
Also, Davidson had won 11 straight games against GSU dating back to 2006.
So naturally, the Eagles dominated from the opening tip.
The Eagles never trailed, and they got their first SoCon win of the season with a 70-57 dismantling of the Wildcats on Monday at Hanner Fieldhouse.
"We strive to be the best team in the SoCon, and they’re not immortal," said GSU forward Marvin Baynham, who came off the bench for 12 points. "They’re people, just like any other NCAA team, and tonight, we showed them that."
Davidson (9-7, 4-1 SoCon) got as close as 42-40 when Chris Czerapowicz hit a 3 off an assist from Nik Cochran with 12 minutes, 19 seconds to go in the game..
The Eagles (7-10, 1-3) had only one starter on the floor — Tre Bussey — but that didn’t stop them from getting the separation they needed.
With Brian Holmes at point, he, Bussey and Baynham did the scoring while GSU erupted on a 9-0 run. By the time the starters began to check back in, the Eagles’ bench built a 55-43 lead.
"The coaches made a pact and said, ‘Listen, we’re watching effort plays. If a guy’s not making effort plays, he’s coming out.’ We need effort every night," GSU coach Charlton Young said. "I made it clear to them — this is who we are. It drives me nuts being Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, not knowing which team is going to show up. We sent a message to ourselves that we can win the Southern Conference tournament. We’ve got to fight and we’ve got to scrap."
The starters finished the job, making four out of five free throws, and getting an icing-on-the-cake, one handed slam by Eric Ferguson, who finished with 14 points in only 18 minutes on the court.
Point guard C.J. Reed led all scorers with 16 points.
The Wildcats came out of the gate cold, making just one of their first eight attempts.
By the time De’Mon Brooks hit a pair of free throws at the 17:33 mark, GSU already built a 6-0 lead.
The Eagles led 18-8 on nine points by Reed and 3s by Reed and Ferguson.
"We knew this was a big game, that we had to have this game," Reed said. "We were 0-3 in the conference. We had to have this game. We hadn’t played well at home this season, so we had to come out with a lot of energy."
Both hit a pair of bombs as the Eagles went 4 of 7 from behind the arc in the first half. The Eagles didn’t attempt a 3 in the second half.
Ferguson sat for 12 first-half minutes after two early fouls, but got to the break with eight points including a pair of 3s.
Georgia Southern led by as many as 12, but after a steal and a coast-to coast layup by Holmes made it 25-13, the Wildcats went on a run of their own.
Sparked by a Cochran 3, Davidson went on a 12-3 run and entered the locker room down 35-31 after GSU got two Bussey free throws in the final second of the first half.
Davidson shot the ball well from behind the 3-point line — 10 of 26 — but went 5 of 15 from long distance had shot just 30 percent in the final 20 minutes against a GSU defense that stayed predominantly in zone.
The game was played in front of a crowd of 1,716, the largest since before the fall semester ended.
"We’re just a different team when the students are here," Young said. "I don’t want to sound like I’m making excuses, but when we play over the holidays, the students aren’t here and the energy’s not here, and we should be self-starters, bit it’s tough to play in that environment. Tonight, it was a Georgia Southern environment. It made a difference in our guys. The students and the fans won this game. Our guys played their butts off, but the students and the fans won this game."
Georgia Southern honored 206 student-athletes at halftime, who each earned a minimum 3.0 grade-point average during the fall semester.
The Eagles return to action Thursday in Hanner against College of Charleston at 7 p.m.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.