All focus on Atlanta for surging Eagles

Junior point guard Tookie Brown leads the team in both PPG (18.6) and FT% (.787).

McClain Baxley

Georgia Southern has had a season in which they’ve had to learn to win in various ways. They’ve had the blowouts, the comeback wins and the last second shots.

The Eagles average nearly 40 points in the second half of games, which has led to nail biting finishes and second half breakaways. The last 20 minutes of games has been what has defined this team.

In years past, players would give up and settle for a heartbreaking loss. This season, in contrast has led to wins that make the heart skip a beat.

Coach Mark Byington has alluded several times that this team has more skill and heart than teams in the past. And it has come up on the court more times than just that Friday night win in Winston-Salem, which Byington says “feels like five years ago.”

The win at Wake Forest on Nov. 10 may as well have been five years ago, but it’s been a driving force of momentum for the Eagles.

The win set the landscape for other games and situation the Eagles would be put in down the stretch-especially in Sun Belt play.

The win over the Demon Deacons is also something that rival and next team up Georgia State doesn’t have. GSU had two opportunities to earn a win over a well-known, “high profile” team- at Ole Miss and at Dayton.

Like Wake Forest, the Rebels and Flyers have been teams that have reached post season play and have received national coverage in the past years. D’Marcus Simonds and Malik Benlevi weren’t able to do what Ike Smith and Tookie Brown were able to do. Win.

This Saturday marks another chapter in the Modern Day Hate. Both teams split the games last season and the season before.

They haven’t played annually but the Eagles haven’t won in Atlanta since 1992-the last year GS went to the NCAA tournament. Both teams come into Saturday riding four game win streaks.

Thus far, both of these Peach State teams have played the same conference schedule and drawn up the same results except that GS beat Troy on the road, while GSU lost.

Saturday’s matchup between the Eagles and Panthers features the number two and number four teams in Sun Belt play, respectively.

Annually, these two Georgia schools along with some other outlier school have competed for the Sun Belt title. This game will be the biggest measuring tool for both GS and GSU.

“Things are getting real exciting,” Byington remarked about the team’s success thus far. “But we’re just six games in and there are 12 more to go.”

On paper, the two teams are nearly identical with GS scoring 77 PPG and GSU with 72.6.

The only stat that the two differ noticeably is rebounds. The Panthers average 32.9 RPG, but the Eagles average 40.2 RPG, which is 30th nationally.

A large part of Southern’s success on the boards is Montae Glenn’s 8.9 RPG. If this game comes down to the final minutes, rebounds will be huge.

Another key stat is free throw percentage and once again it is close. GS shooting 65.5 percent and GSU shooting 66.2.

The stars for both team are clutch from the line and they will matter on Saturday’s game which could get chippy and out of hand if the referees allow it.

It doesn’t matter what sport it is, when the Eagles play that team from Atlanta, they don’t want to lose this incredibly passionate, competitive game. Especially this season.

Tipoff from Atlanta is set for 2:15 p.m. on Jan. 20. The game will be shown on ESPN3.