Georgia Southern’s first Division I opponent to venture into Hanner Fieldhouse threw quite the punch.
Mercer led the Eagles 21-6 minutes into Tuesday night’s matchup, but Georgia Southern dominated the rest of the way, racking up a 98-88 victory.
“I thought that was a great effort for our guys to get back into the game,” GS coach Mark Byington said. “We had a poor start and didn’t really have an option other than to come back big.”
Georgia Southern guard Elijah McCadden set a career high with 28 points, including seven 3-pointers. Ike Smith scored 20, Simeon Carter netted 19 and Quan Jackson racked up 10 as the Eagles proved to have far too much firepower for Mercer to stop.
As much as the Eagles’ scoring took center stage, the team’s ball-handling set up most of the fireworks. With all-time great Tookie Brown now departed from the program, Calvin Wishart and David Lee Jones have assumed the role of bringing the ball up the court and getting the GS offense going.
The duo thrived all night, combining for 13 assists against just three turnovers.
With the ball flowing freely through the Eagle offense, Mercer was left grasping at straws.
“There were a lot of guys making plays,” Byington said. “Teams saw what (Crawley) can do last season and they backed off of McCadden to get to him. I don’t think anyone will have that plan again.”
Just about every defensive plan for the Bears was the wrong one once Georgia Southern got going.
Carter led the team with nine field goals. Trey Dawkins hit all three attempted shots and grabbed a rebound during his 10 minutes off the bench and the team connected on 12-of-18 free throws to punish any fouls dealt out by Mercer.
“Getting a 31-4 difference from out bench was big,” Byington said.
The GS coach also embraced how his team had fun with things with some creative passing and authoritative dunks once it took control of the game.
“The game is supposed to be fun,” Byington said. “I want them to play loose and confident. I just try to ignore any of the gray hairs coming in when I watch what they’re doing.”
With the win, Georgia Southern improved to 3-2 on the season. The Eagles seem to be quickly recovering from a rash of early injuries that limited the roster in their first few contests.
The team now gets a full 10 days between games before heading south for a tournament hosted by Florida Gulf Coast.