Georgia Southern received some attention from the college basketball world when it upset Wake Forest on the road to begin its season last week.
Playing at Hanner Fieldhouse for the first time in the 2017-18 campaign Monday night, the Eagles made even more noise.
Up against a Call State Bakersfield squad that advanced to Madison Square Garden for the semifinals of the NIT last season, the Eagles made the Roadrunners look more like the early-season sacrificial lamb of a national power. Tookie Brown scored 24 and Ike Smith added another 21 as Georgia Southern dominated throughout, never trailing in a 77-53 victory.
“You preach about handling adversity, but you wonder about how you're going to handle success,” GS coach Mark Byington said. “Since (beating Wake Forest), a lot of guys have been getting pats on the back. I like that we had a gread practice yesterday and were able to come out and just focus on playing well against a very good team from Bakersfield.”
Georgia Southern (2-0) exploded out of the gate with a 15-3 run to begin the game. Montae Glenn (9 points, 7 rebounds) was the unlikely 3-point candidate that got the scoring started from long range. From there, the Eagles clamped down on what would be an entire night’s worth of solid defense and a pair of 3’s from Smith helped pave the way for a big night.
“Last week was a big win, but we knew we had to be ready for tonight,” Smith said. “We celebrated on the bus ride back (last week) and then it was back to work.”
For the last couple of years, the Eagles have been best described as a young team with a lot of talent, but with a lot of growing up to do.
That showed last season as the team burst out of the gate to lead the Sun Belt midway through conference play, only to fade in the last month and have another one-and-done showing in the conference tournament.
On Monday night, the Eagles showed signs of growth. Facing a Roadrunner squad that made the NIT last year and the NCAA tournament the year before, Georgia Southern never let the lead get closer than six after its initial run and continually answered one big CSUB basket with several of its own.
"I really believe that this team has just scratched the surface," Byington said. "To beat a team like that, I feel like we played much better than we did against Wake."
Glenn's nine points were the third highest for the Eagles behind the outbursts of Smith and Brown.
The Eagles did well to only lose the rebounding battle 40-35 against a taller team and the defensive performance — aside from the final score — was evident in the Eagles' 18-8 turnover advantage.
Georgia Southern remains at home and will face Bluefield State on Thursday in the first round of the Gulf Coast Showcase that will soon find GS headed to Estero, Fla.