If college basketball is all about peaking at the right time, the Georgia Southern men’s basketball team has some work to do over the next few weeks.
The Eagles won their first seven Sun Belt games and enjoyed a two-game lead in the conference standings three weeks ago.
But that lead was erased with a pair of losses in Alabama and Georgia Southern now finds itself fighting to stay in the top third of the conference for the first time after an 83-78 setback at Appalachian State Monday night marked the fourth consecutive road setback for the Eagles.
“Right now, we’re an average basketball team,” GS coach Mark Byington said. “Average teams can’t go on the road and win. We need to work more. We need to care more. We need to coach better.”
App State star Ronshad Shabazz was limited to just 12 points, but Griffin Kinney lifted the Mountaineers onto his shoulders, scoring 25 points, weighted heavily by hitting on 13-of-20 attempts from the free throw line.
For the Eagles, Tookie Brown easily led all scorers with 32 points, but didn’t get much help as his teammates combined to shoot just 16-of-39 from the field.
The Eagles (16-10, 9-4 Sun Belt) defeated the Mountaineers (8-16, 3-10) three weeks ago in Statesboro. Georgia Southern appeared poised to notch a season sweep before things went haywire late in the first half.
Georgia Southern held a 30-26 lead with 4:04 to play in the first half, but Appalachian surged through the end of the half and took a 41-33 lead into the locker room. The Mountaineers kept the momentum going out of the break and pushed their advantage to 13 points early on, paced by a layup and 3-pointer by Shabazz and another long-range strike by Emarius Logan (10 points).
Appalachian State hit a high-water mark of a 15-point lead near the midway point of the second half.
And while Georgia Southern found some of its offensive touch down the stretch, it was never enough to put the game in doubt.
The Eagles couldn’t get within double-digits until fewer than 30 seconds remained and the Mountaineers easily ran out the clock to split the regular season series.
“The losses are fine, but we need to respond,” Byington said. “When you go on the road, it shows you what you are. It shows your weaknesses. Now it’s our job to go and fix it.”
Georgia Southern is 9-1 in the comfy confines of Hanner Fieldhouse. Getting back home will be a welcome prospect for the Eagles, but the competition doesn’t get any easier. In the final two home games of the season, the Eagles will welcome Texas State to town Saturday night before squaring off against UT Arlington next Monday.
The Eagles’ final three games of the regular season will all be played on the road.