The Georgia Southern Eagles are going into the Sun Belt tournament as the fifth seed. They play this Thursday against South Alabama in New Orleans, heading back to the state of Louisiana after losing to Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana-Monroe last weekend.
The Eagles have to go through South Alabama, Louisiana-Lafayette, and Arkansas-Little Rock in order to advance to the Sun Belt Championship. The road for last year’s team to this year’s team is completely flipped, but the end goal is still the same.
The Eagles’ first opponent is the South Alabama Jaguars, who swept the Eagles this season going 2-0 in conference play. They lost both games by a combined 12 points and are hoping that the third time will be the charm this time around.
“We lost to them twice, but they’re a good team and both times we played them we just weren’t ready and we know we can be better” sophomore forward Jake Allsmiller, who put up 29 points in the last game against the Jaguars, said.
The Eagles know they have the skill set to match up with the Jaguars, but they have to put it all together and set it in motion. Last weekend’s matchups reminded the Eagles just how tough conference play can get at any moment and having lapses during games can be the deciding factor in winning or losing.
“[We] need to stay consistent on defense, there was times we had lapses in our defense and we gave up some easy baskets. We should just stay focused and stay consistent with it and we should be good to go,” Mike Hughes, sophomore guard, said on how to survive in the tournament.
If the Eagles beat South Alabama on Thursday they square off against two teams who have also had their number this season. The Eagles are 0-4 this season against Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas-Little Rock. They have struggled with Lafayette, partly because of the Sun Belt Player of the Year, Shawn Long, who averages a double-double with 18.8 points and 12.9 rebounds per game. He is also a highly regarded NBA prospect and arguably the best talent in the league.
Arkansas-Little Rock will likely be the toughest of the Eagles challenges as the Trojans are number one in the conference and have asserted themselves as the best team in the Sun Belt, hands down. The Eagles were beaten by double-digits in both games against them this season. Creating momentum early with quick scores and catching the Trojans off guard will be a major key if the Eagles want to pull off the upset.
The Eagles’ tournament draw has been unfortunate as they are 0-6 this season against the teams on their side of the bracket, but they still have a chance.
“Winning a tournament game is special, and we’ve been fortunate going on my third year here to win a couple in Nashville and going to the Finals last year. It’s such a fun ride once you start winning and going on and winning another one and keeping on moving forward. I love it watching the guys and how they react, so you just gotta catch some magic and play well,” head coach Mark Byington said.
The Eagles need some tournament “magic” to win the Sun Belt and hope is far from lost. The conference tournaments this year have already seen five upsets on number one seeds this season and if the trend continues, GSU could be another team with a Cinderella story waiting to be told.