Seniors final debut in Hanner

Colin Ritsick

Tonight is Senior Night, a night to honor the men who’ve paid their dues in sweat and blood for Georgia Southern basketball – a night to make it all about the guys who won’t be here next year.

But that’s not what they want. All they want is a win.

“We don’t want it to be about us, we want it to be about Georgia Southern and the collective student body and getting to the NCAA tournament. This game right here is a big game,” senior forward Eric Ferguson said.

Ferguson has been here for five years.

He was here when the team went 5-27 in 2010-2011. He was here when the only people in the stands at Hanner Fieldhouse were friends and family. And he’s here now, on a team that is 20-7 and fighting for the No. 1 seed in the Sun Belt tournament – fighting to make it to the Big Dance.

Beating Texas-Arlington tonight is a crucial step towards that goal, and the seniors want the fans to know that.

“The fans give us that extra edge. When we’re down…we know they’re going to get hectic and make it hard for the other team. And that’s going to give us the extra push to keep playing hard. The fans are a big part of our success,” senior guard Curtis Diamond said.

Although they deflect the attention, make no mistake – this year, and this team, is about the seniors.

“Georgia Southern basketball has not been successful in a long time and these guys have already done a lot; they still have a lot in front of them to do. What they’ve done with this program, the students should be proud,” head coach Mark Byington said.

Seven seniors are on the team.

Guard Jelani Hewitt (18.2 ppg, 3.7 apg), center Trent Wiedeman (11.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg), forward Angel Matias (8.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg), Diamond (8.1 ppg), Ferguson (7.8 ppg), D.J. Suter (1.7 ppg) and Zach Altany (.8 ppg).

Byington doesn’t think he’s ever been around a team with seven seniors. This much experience on a college team is rare. It makes his job easier, he said.

“There’s nothing like experience…by the time you get to your senior year, you’ve been through a lot. They’ve been through a lot and not all were great times,” Byington said.

It’s been almost 10 years since Georgia Southern has won more games than it’s lost. This is the first winning season at GS since 2005-2006.

They’re not satisfied with a good season. They want the world to know their goal is to make it to the NCAA tournament.

“I talk to those guys about leaving a legacy. If you go through your career and nobody remembers you later on, then I don’t think you accomplished what you came to do,” Byington said.

The Eagles are in a three-way tie for first place in the conference with Georgia State and UL Monroe. A No. 1 or a No. 2 seed gets a double-bye in the Sun Belt tournament – which means they only have to win two games to win the tournament.

Matias said, “I think [the fans] need to come watch us play the last home game. I think they’re as excited as we are. We’re trying to get a win. It’s a big game. We need a win to make sure we get this 1 or 2 seed for the tournament.”