The Georgia Southern women’s basketball team did something this past weekend that only one other team has been able to do this year, and that is to hand East Division leading Troy a conference loss. Friday night the Eagles won a shoot-out 96-91, before falling on Saturday 92-83. Eagle head coach Anita Howard feels the team is continuing to make progress and Friday’s victory gives her plenty of optimism.
“We competed well against them down at their places, so we felt we could compete even better at home,” said Howard. “I was really pleased with our continued fight against them in the first game. We gave up 33 points in the first quarter, but we didn’t hold our heads down, we came out and battled. Saturday, I think we may have gotten a bit complacent after the win and Troy’s senior leaders stepped up.”
The Eagles actually trailed 52-39 at halftime but rebounded to outscore the Trojans 57-39 in the second half. Coming back from halftime deficits is something the Eagles have done on a few occasions this year leading many to praise Coach Howard’s halftime speeches.
“I used to think you had to huff and puff at halftime when you are trailing,” said Howard. “With this team they don’t really respond to that type of coaching. This team responds to more motivation, and challenging type of instruction. We always have our pre-game goals, and if we aren’t carrying that out, I bring it up again at halftime. That seems to get them refused much more than just yelling and pounding my fist.”
The Eagles lost on Saturday, but were still able to score 83 points, and had plenty of standout performances over the weekend. 6-2 freshman Eden Johnson led the Eagles on Friday with 20 points including going 4-5 on three-point shots. Freshman Terren Ward was named Sun Belt player of the week after averaging 18.5 points per game and 12 rebounds per contest against the Trojans.
“Eden did a great job of playing hard and smart and taking what the defense gave her,” said Howard. “Terren is a physical player and averaged almost a triple double in high school. She has the ability to put up stats in different categories. Troy is a strong physical team, but Terren is a strong physical player, and it was a great matchup for her.”
Ward played at Wayne County High School and may be familiar to Statesboro High fans. The Eagles other Sun Belt player of the week this year was sophomore Shondell Vickers who played in the same region at Ware County High School, add freshman Lacy Robins from Statesboro High into the mix and Coach Howard has a lot of local talent helping the Eagles this year and, in the years, to come.
“I said when I got the job, I wanted to recruit the best talent in the state of Georgia,” said Howard. Luckily with those three we didn’t have far to travel. It also adds to our fan base, even when you talk about a player like A’Tyanna Gaulden from Americus Georgia. I feel like it really helps us to have a home court advantage. I know Terren had a huge fan base come to the games this weekend and I think that helped her to focus and play even harder.”
“I feel like Lacy finished Saturday’s game string and has had a great week of practice. She is long and a good defender as well as being one of the better three-point shooters in high school we saw. Shondell is only a sophomore and led the country in field goal percentage in junior college. We are trying to challenge her to shoot more and continue to hit the boards.”
Thursday the Eagles play Georgia State in the first of two games, with the second coming Saturday in Atlanta. The Panthers are 5-3 in conference play, while the Eagles are 4-6 and Coach Howard knows the importance of these next two games.
“We have a couple seniors who know what the rivalry between Georgia Southern and Georgia State is, but the newcomers aren’t as aware,” said Howard. “I feel like they will learn how intense it can be Thursday night. Eagle Nation knows we can’t lose to those little Panthers down the road, they are a very good team, but it is an in-state rivalry and means a lot as far as where we are in the conference as well as the rivalry.”
Thursday’s game is scheduled for 6:00 at Hanner Fieldhouse. The two teams will then run it back Saturday at 2:00 in Atlanta.