After a couple of close calls, the Georgia Southern men got their first win of the 2011-12 basketball season Friday night and did so in style. The Eagles (1-2) started strong and never looked back, taking down Webber International by a score of 84-61 at Hanner Fieldhouse.
It was never much of a contest as the Warriors (2-6) never disrupted the hot shooting of the Eagles. Georgia Southern shot over 50 percent from the field and from behind the arc in the first half, building a 51-23 lead at the break.
For GSU head coach Charlton Young, firing from right out of the gate was a pleasant change.
“In the first couple of games, we had some early jitters,” said Young. “We wanted to get into the game from the opening jump, and I think we did that tonight.”
In Young’s two seasons at the help of the GSU program, he has stockpiled a wealth of youthful talent to go along with the Eagles’ veteran cast. Wins haven’t come easy for the Eagles over the last couple of years, but there were signs that Friday’s win could be the first step that GSU needs to take in rounding the corner.
“We felt good about a lot of what we did tonight,” said Young. “This season, we have some more experience guys that can hold their own and help to develop the younger guys.”
Leading the way for Georgia Southern were senior guard Willie Powers (8 points, 5 assists) and sophomore forward Eric Ferguson (18 points, 8 rebounds). For Powers — who missed most of last season with a knee injury — it was nice to get a win in front of the home crowd.
“It felt really good to come out and get a win,” said Powers. “Right now, I’m just trying to work my way back and feel a little better each game. But I take a lot of responsibility for this team. I think that we can improve and be a pretty special team.”
Jelani Hewitt (13 points) and Tre Bussey (11), joined Ferguson in reaching the double-digits mark for points. In all, 11 different Eagles recorded points on the night.
“It’s nice to be able to see a lot of guys out there showing us what they can do,” said Young. “It’s all about growth and getting better.”
In the second half, the Warriors were able to find their rhythm with a few quick buckets, but the Eagles quickly reestablished their dominance. Webber outscored GSU 38-33 in the final 20 minutes, prompting some criticism from Young, but also a lot of encouragement for his team.
“We could have done a little more in the second half,” said Young. “That being said, it can be very hard to keep up the intensity with a big lead.”
One trend that continued for the Eagles Friday were the hustle plays that the GSU coaching staff preaches at each practice. After the Eagles’ season-opening loss to Valparaiso last week, Young
challenged his team to be more aggressive on defense while staying smart and out of foul trouble.
GSU managed to outrebound ACC foe Wake Forest earlier in the week and claimed a 48-33 edge on the boards over Webber.
“The biggest thing is that we have a lot of guys who are excited about playing basketball,” said Young. “We still have a lot of work to do and we still need to play a little smarter, but our goal is to be a championship level team. We’re going to keep making strides and try to be that kind of team in January and February.”
Yorell Scaggs’ 13 points led Webber — the only Warrior to score in double-digits.
Georgia Southern will rest over the weekend before traveling to Tampa for a showdown against South Florida Nov. 23.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.