Losses Plague End of Men’s Basketball Season

Thomas Jilk

For Eagle loyalists, the men’s basketball season ended in disappointing fashion with an early-round loss to eventual Sun Belt champion Troy in the conference tournament followed by a blowout loss to Utah Valley in the College Basketball Invitational postseason tournament.

Sun Belt Tournament

On March 10, Troy beat GS 90-70 in New Orleans, then the Trojans went on to win the conference title and earn a No. 15 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where they went on to compete respectably against perennial powerhouse and No. 2 seed Duke.

Against Troy, Georgia Southern struggled to stop the Trojans potent offensive duo of junior guard Wesley Person and sophomore forward Jordon Varnado. Both Person and Varnado scored 26 points. Person was 7-of-8 from 3-point range. Georgia Southern’s early season defensive woes came back to haunt the Eagles , as they allowed 60 percent shooting from the field by the Trojans.

For GS, sophomore guard Ike Smith’s 21 points along with sophomore guard Tookie Brown’s 14 and junior guard Mike Hughes’ 12 were not enough to overcome the 90 points the Eagles allowed.

College Basketball Invitational

Despite the conference tournament loss, Georgia Southern was invited to compete in the College Basketball Invitational, and they were matched up with Utah Valley on March 15 in Statesboro.

The Utah Valley Wolverines of the Western Athletic Conference stifled the Georgia Southern offense en route to a 74-49 win. Utah Valley will face Rice in a CBI quarterfinal game Monday night after press time.

The Eagles shot 29 percent from the field against a strong Utah Valley defense. GS sophomore forward Montae Glenn led the Eagles in scoring with 13 points and rebounding with eight. the usually-explosive Smith and Brown were limited to 10 and seven points, respectively.

The Wolverines were led by junior guard Brandon Randolph and senior guard Jordan Poydras – both of whom scored 12 points. Four Utah Valley players scored in double-figures.

Looking ahead to the future

The good news for Georgia Southern men’s basketball is that basically the entirety of its statistically contributing roster will return next season. Brown, Smith, and Glenn will be juniors, while Hughes and junior shooting guard Jake Allsmiller will be seniors. The entirety of the GS starting lineup, thus, will be upperclassmen.

These future upperclassmen will have the talent and the experience to again compete for a Sun Belt title. After Smith and Brown finished first and second in the conference in scoring, the prolific guards will emphasize improved defensive consistency looking ahead to next season.

Coach Mark Byington will enter his fifth season at the helm for the Eagles, and he will have his most experienced team yet. The expectations from fans will rightly be high, and Eagle Nation will be encouraged not by the end of this season, but certainly by numerous performances throughout the season.

At times, the Eagles were a fun-to-watch, dynamic offensive machine capable of outscoring or out-shooting any opponent. Byington and the players will focus on ratcheting up their consistency, and they believe it all starts at the defensive end.

Glenn and junior forward B.J. Gladden should emerge as interior presences, of which Georgia Southern is in dire need. Rebounding, interior defense, and second half defense are areas to improve upon for the Eagles in 2017-2018.

The Eagles will definitely add size with an incoming recruit: 7-foot Tyshaun Crawford from Griffin, Georgia. Byington told gseagles.com Marc Gignac that Crawford “has very good hands and will give us a big presence inside and be a defensive force with his shot blocking.”

Size, experience, and a dangerous scoring punch could power Georgia Southern to an even more successful season than their 2016-2017 one, in which their final record was 18-15.