The Georgia Southern men’s basketball team has been through a roller coaster of a season, with some thrilling victories weighed against disappointing and head-scratching defeats.
But the path to more success is now crystal clear. Win and keep going, or lose and wrap up the season.
The Eagles (18-13) will tip off their postseason in what is the second round of the Sun Belt Conference tournament tonight when they host Louisiana at 7 p.m. in Hanner Fieldhouse. The top 10 regular season finishers qualified for the tournament, with Louisiana topping Arkansas State and Coastal Carolina upsetting UT Arlington on Saturday. Now it will be the Eagles and Ragin’ Cajuns battling for the right to take on Georgia State on Wednesday night in Atlanta in the tournament quarterfinals.
Georgia Southern has shown the talent to play with - and beat - anyone in the conference. The team is packed with senior leadership and there are few team in the Sun Belt that can match the Eagles’ pace when their up-tempo offense is clicking.
Then again, the Eagles have also shown a tendency to hit huge cold spells and have had incredible difficulty closing out games over the last couple of months. Five times during Sun Belt play, the Eagles have led by at least 10 points in the second half, only to fall flat down the stretch and walk away with a loss. Wins in even half of those games would have earned Georgia Southern a triple-bye straight to the conference semifinals.
Instead, Georgia Southern will be hosting its first conference tournament game since defeating Georgia State in the 1992 Trans-Atlantic Athletic Conference championship game. In what the Eagles hope is an omen of a big run to come, that game also marks the last time the Eagles qualified for the NCAA tournament.
If the Eagles are to make a run through the Sun Belt tournament, they’ll have to do so short-handed. The team has been playing with a short bench due to injury for almost the entire season and another huge blow was suffered in the regular season finale when senior forward Simeon Carter went down early and never returned.
There is no definite word on Carter’s status, but the Eagles have indicated that they will be starting a small lineup consisting of four guards - and no Carter - to begin Monday’s game.
Regardless of the starting lineup or rotation, Georgia Southern will be looking to build off of its regular season sweep of the Cajuns. The Eagles rode a huge second half to a 71-51 home victory on Jan. 11 before invading the Cajundome and leaving with an 86-79 road win on Feb. 8.
Georgia State and Texas State will host Wednesday’s quarterfinal matchups. The winners of those games will ship out to New Orleans where top-seeded Little Rock and No. 2 seed South Alabama have already staked out spots in the semifinals.