Eagles striving to stay No. 1

Layne Saliba

The Georgia Southern men’s basketball team (13-4, 6-2 SBC) will take on Appalachian State (8-10, 5-4 SBC) today in Hanner Field House. The last time the two teams met was last season in the Southern Conference when Georgia Southern fell to the Mountaineers 81-68. Now, the two teams have made the transition to the Sun Belt for a renewed rivalry among heightened competition.

Georgia Southern’s redshirt senior guard Jelani Hewitt has stepped up and become a leader for this team. He averages 20 points per game and boasts a substantial 48 steals on the season. These numbers are what this team needs, and the Eagles will benefit from this as they seek to settle the score after last season’s loss.

While The Eagles did graduate a few star players from last season, they were able to find replacements that have exceeded expectations. Redshirt senior forward Trent Wiedeman will be a nice addition as a big man down low to compete with this team.

Freshman guard Jake Allsmiller will bring his shooting ability to keep the Mountaineers on their heels, while freshman guard Mike Hughes will be able to shoot from anywhere on the court, as well as offer explosive drives to the basket. Having senior forward Eric Ferguson back, who was redshirted last season, will also increase the Eagles’ level of play.

App State returns most of their starters from last season including junior guard Frank Eaves. Eaves is averaging 18 points per game this season and scored the game-winning basket in an upset against ACC opponent Virginia Tech. He also led the team to a win over No. 2 ranked Georgia State in the Sun Belt. Eaves is definitely App State’s most dangerous weapon outside the perimeter and will be someone that the Eagles must guard throughout the entire contest.

Down low is six-foot seven Tommy Spagnolo. The senior forward is the second leading scorer on the team with 11 points each game along with eight boards. Wiedeman will have his hands full, but should be able to stand his ground with a one inch and 30 pound advantage.

No matter what conference these two teams are in, it will always be a rivalry. So fans should be in for a treat. And with App State on a four-game winning streak, they won’t be willing to go down easy.

Georgia Southern will have to shut down Eaves and force turnovers like they have been doing so well recently. Defense will be key as the Eagles try to keep the Mountaineers at their .395 field goal percentage. On the other hand, attack should be the mantra of this game so the Eagles can increase their .424 field goal percentage. However, this may prove to be a game that is won beyond the arc in a battle of Eaves versus Hewitt.

Every game is crucial from here on out as the top four teams in the league are separated by a game or less. The Eagles hold the No. 1 spot and hope to keep it with a win over the Mountaineers. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. EST.