When Anita Howard arrived on campus to help a Georgia Southern women’s basketball program that has been struggling for years, all hopes were that the ship would be headed in the right direction in due time.
After the last few weeks, things appear to be on course faster than anyone could have expected.
With wins over UL Monroe and UL Lafayette last week, the Eagles won their first two conference games for the first time since the 2009-10 campaign. They’re also 5-4 since a rough start to the season and now head to Little Rock for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff tonight before visiting Arkansas State on Saturday.
“I’m really excited with how we’ve come together,” Howard said. “We have six seniors that have been through a lot. We’ve got our big three scorers with Alexis Brown, Tatum Barber and Hailey Dias-Allen. We’ve also got younger girls who are stepping up. It’s not always as consistent as we want it to be, but I know that someone is going to get it done for us every night.”
Consistency may still be lacking in Howard’s opinion, but there is no doubt that the team has been much more competitive against conference foes in the early days of the Howard era. The Eagles are getting stops and shooting the ball at much better clips than in years past.
More importantly, the scoresheet has often been filled with 10 or more players logging meaningful stats and minutes where previous GS teams had often relied on one or two hot hands to carry them through any given day.
“I believe in strength in numbers,” Howard said. “We need a lot of girls to contribute for us to play our best. And where you have the older girls who have seen a lot and know how to handle pressure, we also have a lot of young talent that can help by playing loose and carefree.”
That was evident in the tail end of last week’s first two Sun Belt games. Georgia Southern handled a struggling ULM team before welcoming a UL Lafayette squad that was well over .500 and exactly the kind of team that had made quick work of the Eagles in previous years.
Instead, Georgia Southern came out on fire and quickly built a double-digit lead on the way to setting a new program record with 14 3-pointers in an 83-67 rout of the Ragin’ Cajuns.
“We try to stress all gas and no brakes,” Howard said. “We didn’t quite win the second half, but we did a great job of getting up early and keeping our composure when (UL Lafayette) came on strong.”
The Eagles now face a tougher task. Not only will they have to keep up their winning ways away from home, but they’ll try to do so against the pair of Arkansas teams that has consistently contended for conference titles since the Eagles have been in the Sun Belt.
“I’m not too worried about travelling since we played eight or nine in a row on the road,” Howard said. “And I try to tell the girls not to focus on the score or on the opponent. We want to approach every game with the attitude that we’re playing like it’s the championship game because that’s the situation we want to be ready for.”
GS Men hoping to rebound at home
The Georgia Southern men’s team came firing out of the gates in Sun Belt play, winning each of their first three games - and all of them in dramatic fashion. The close games have continued, but the winning hasn’t as the Eagles fell to Appalachian State on a last-second shot over the weekend and dropped another to being the week out in Little Rock.
If it’s any consolation, plenty of parity in the opening weeks of conference play have made the losses hurt a bit less. Little Rock leads the pack with a perfect 5-0 mark, but the Eagles are now one of five teams tied for second at 3-2 in league play.
Georgia Southern will try to turn things around this week as it returns home to Hanner Fieldhouse where it is unbeaten on the season. UL Monroe (6-8, 2-3) takes the floor against the Eagles on Thursday night at 7 p.m., with UL Lafayette coming to town for a 4 p.m. tip on Saturday.
The Eagles have been balanced as four players average double-digit scoring, but it’s consistency that has lacked. The team has mostly struggled from behind the arc while overall field goal percentage is down from last season. Georgia Southern continues to be one of the best teams in the country at forcing turnovers, but much of the defensive effectiveness ends there as opponents are shooting at a clip of just over 45 percent when they are able to run their offense against the Eagles.
Both games will be broadcast on the Georgia Southern Radio Network and can be viewed on ESPN+.