The Georgia Southern men’s basketball team get their 2023 Sun Belt tournament underway Thursday in Pensacola against UL-Monroe Thursday at 8:30 p.m.
The Eagles enter the tournament coming off a pair of wins at home to end the regular season with a 16-15 record and a 9-9 mark in league play. Head coach Brian Burg is hoping to carry a little momentum into the opening round matchup.
“We finished off the season with a pair of quality wins against Coastal Carolina and Appalachian State,” Burg said. “We know we are going to play a team that gave us some trouble here in Statesboro in ULM. They have a great inside-outside game. We are confident we can play with any team in this league and I think we have proved that throughout the year.”
The Eagles finished the season going 4-2 in their final six games and even in the losses Burg feels the team has been improving and giving a great effort.
“You look at the last six games and we defended at a high level in all those games,” Burg said. “Those were some of the best defensive efforts we have had all year. Defense travels and so does rebounding and those are two areas in which we have been consistent recently.”
Senior Andrei Savrasov was named to the second team All-Sun Belt squad and will be counted on to help the Eagles make a run in the tournament as well.
“Andrei is averaging about 19 points and nine rebounds a game over the last five games,” Burg said. “He has been a really efficient player but we are going to need everyone to contribute and elevate their games now that it is tournament time.”
One area where the Eagles have improved over the past few games is from behind the three-point line. The eagles have been among the worst teams in the nation for much of the year, but over the past two games they have shot just under 50 percent from behind the arc.
“The ball has been moving much more which tends to help get open shots,” Burg said. “Our assist rate is up and that usually means your shooting percentage is up. We are taking more quality shots and I think the guys have also put in the time in the gym to be able to get a better rhythm which has helped as well.
While the regular season is important Burg said the Sun Belt tournament is something totally different and the team has to have a new mind set.
“It is a new season and everyone is 0-0,” Burg said. ‘We are leaning on the leadership of our fifth-year seniors to help us through this. It is a different mentality and those guys understand that it is win, or go home at this point. There is a sense of urgency with this team and I expect it to carry into the tournament.”
The Eagles and Warhawks of ULM are set for an 8:30 p.m. tip off Thursday night in Pensacola.
Lady Red Wolves 81, Lady Eagles 76
PENSACOLA, Fla. — Senior Taya Gibson's career-high 26 points and 14 rebounds were not enough as No. 6 seeded Georgia Southern fell to No. 11-seed Arkansas State, 81-76, in overtime in Wednesday night's Sun Belt Conference Tournament Second Round at the Pensacola Bay Center in Pensacola, Fla.
The Eagles see their season come to a close with a 20-8 record, the first 20 win season for Georgia Southern in 20 years. Arkansas State (13-18) advances to the quarterfinals to face No. 3 seed Southern Miss on Friday.
Arkansas State shot a blistering 58.8 percent, including hitting five three-pointers, in putting up 27 points in the first quarter and leading by as many as 14 points. Georgia Southern cut that lead to single digits, 36-27, on a bucket by Gibson right at the end of the half.
In the second half, the Eagles cut down on their turnovers, allowing Georgia Southern to climb back into the contest. Georgia Southern committed 15 turnovers in the first half, but only four in the second half. The Eagles put up 26 points in the third quarter and led, 53-50, at the end of the third quarter.
The Eagles took a four-point lead into the final minute of regulation, 71-67, but a three-pointer by Alea Gibson cut the lead to one. Georgia Southern missed three of four free throws in the final minute that could have helped seal the victory. Lauryn Pendleton's baseline jumper with eight seconds left tied the score at 72-all and sent the game into an extra frame.
Arkansas State scored the first six points of overtime and held Georgia Southern to just 2-of-8 from the floor to take the win.
Gibson led a trio of Eagles in double figures with her career-high 26 points. Terren Ward added 17 points and Simone James chipped in 14. Izzy Higginbottom led the Red Wolves with a game-high 28 points.
"First of all, a shout out to Des [Head Coach Desiree Rogers] and Arkansas State. They have done a phenomenal job and are really clicking on all cylinders. Their record is not an indication of who they are and we saw that today," GS coach Anita Howard said. "I'm not happy. Nobody's happy with losing. But we committed 23 turnovers and shot 45 percent from the free throw line. You can't do that on any night, much less in the tournament, and expect to win. Arkansas State was game ready, with 27 points in the first quarter. We finally woke up in the second half. Our team left it all out on the floor tonight. But to go into overtime and lose by single digits - we should have gotten blown out, with how we played. And that's just an indication of how good we can be."