The Next Step

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Robert George

The Men’s Basketball program will look to build off a strong 2014-2015 season that saw the Eagles go 22-9 and advance to the Sun Belt Championship Game where they fell to Georgia State by just two points. That loss will be a big motivating factor for the Eagles this season.

             “It’s a motivating thing for us. We were an inch away from wining the whole thing,” head coach Mark Byington said. “We were close, and now we gotta figure out how to overcome that inch and move forward.”

            The Eagles will be very young this season with just one upperclassman on the roster. Many of the returning players will have to fill gaps left by last season’s graduating class that included five of the team’s top seven scorers. They will return two starters from that squad, however, in guard Mike Hughes and forward Jake Allsmiller. Hughes started every game last season and Allsmiller started in 19 of the 31 contests. Both players averaged at least 20 minutes per game and were key cogs in the rotation. Forward Coye Simmons and guard Devonte Boykins had limited playing time last season, but they’ll be counted on to step up and contribute immediately.

The only upperclassman is senior transfer Devince Boykins. He previously played at Marshall, and will be counted on to provide some leadership, especially when the team plays in some big time environments early in the season. Coach Byington will rely on these guys to help lead the younger players throughout the season.  

Hughes, Allsmiller and both of the Boykins brothers were selected as the team captains for the 2015-2016 season.  “Our captains are voted on by the student-athletes so it’s a big honor to be placed on them by their teammates,” said Byington in an interview Tuesday afternoon. “Having three sophomores be captains is unusual, but they all do have the experience and leadership qualities.”

The Eagles will play a very challenging nonconference schedule that will hopefully prepare them for the highly competitive Sun Belt.

            “The Sun Belt was better than I expected,” Byington said. “The talent level in the league is very high.”

The team will travel to face SEC foes Ole Miss and Auburn before going to Durham, NC to take on the NCAA defending national champion Duke Blue Devils on Dec. 15. Coach Byington is hopeful that the tough slate of games will help the young team get better quicker and prepared for the conference schedule.

            “It’s extremely challenging,” Byington said. “We’re playing very good teams, most of them on the road. Obviously it’s highlighted by Duke, but Winthrop is picked to win the Big South and Ole Miss and Auburn are good. I think a lot of times when guys are going through adversity they grow up faster, which is what we’re hoping for.”

            The Eagles will host Middle Georgia tonight in Hanner Fieldhouse. Tipoff is at 7pm.