So, what now?

Layne Saliba

It was a battle of No. 1 UL Lafayette and No. 2 Georgia Southern on Thursday night in a sold out Hanner Fieldhouse. It was a night where everything went Georgia Southern’s way as the Eagles got the best of the Ragin’ Cajuns with a final score of 78-70.

What goes up…

This game was fast-paced, back-and-forth and intense. Tempers flared at points, and both teams seemed to be battling the referees throughout the game. But, none of this stopped the Eagles from getting the win; a memorable marker for the inaugural Sun Belt season for men’s basketball.

You could see the excitement on each player’s face as soon as the final buzzer sounded. Eric Ferguson was one of the most enthusiastic players as he jumped onto the media table, pumping a fist in celebration with the crowd.

“We wanted to show everybody that we’re here. We wanted to show everybody that we really are a good team, and I felt like we did that today,” senior guard Curtis Diamond said following the win.

It would have been easy to leave that victory with an arrogant attitude, thinking you could beat any team in the conference. But, head coach Mark Byington knew that although this win was big for the Eagles, there was much more lying ahead.

“You know, there were no championship trophies and we’re not cutting nets down. We gotta turn the page quick and play another one on Saturday,” Byington said.

Must come down.

So, that’s what the Eagles did. They turned the page and showed up in Troy, Ala. to face the Troy University Trojans (7-8, 2-4 SBC), expecting somewhat of an easy win from a bottom-of-the-pack team. Unfortunately, that No. 1 spot was short lived for Georgia Southern as they fell short 75-71 on Saturday, moving them down to the No. 2 position in the conference.

Despite an impressive performance from redshirt senior guard Jelani Hewitt, who led all scorers with 28 points while adding six rebounds, and 12 bench points coming from Diamond, Troy took control leaving Georgia Southern with their second Sun Belt loss.

Missed opportunity after missed opportunity seemed to be the Eagles demise as the Trojans continued to do just the opposite. Their shots kept finding a way to make it through the net, and Georgia Southern just couldn’t keep up as they only shot 28 percent from the floor in the second half.

Now what?

On Saturday, Georgia Southern was still holding on to the Thursday night victory. But, as those feelings slowly faded, Eagle Nation was left with just one question – now what?

Luckily, Georgia Southern has only faced six out of their 20 Sun Belt opponents, so there are plenty of games left to be played. And, if the Eagles want to continue in the success they have found thus far, they must continue to play at the level they played on Thursday night, and avoid the mistakes that were made on Saturday.

Continuing to play strong defense from the start is key to the Eagles’ success. That is something that was proven against ULL and will need to be something the team continues to improve upon going forward. Limiting teams in transition is another key to winning games and that’s something the Eagles have done fairly well throughout the season.

Another advantage the Eagles’ have which gives them a competitive edge is the balance in scoring from the floor. Four players reached double-digit scoring on Thursday which is something that a team needs in order to keep opponents on their toes.

“We’ve got a lot of balance, and the more balance you have the better it’s going to be. We were turning to different guys and they all came through,” Byington said after Thursday’s victory. “I like to develop more depth, but it’s not easy.”

The No. 2 Eagles will face the new No. 1 seed in the conference, University of Louisiana Monroe (11-6, 5-1 SBC) on Saturday. This is a very good team with an outstanding defense that is undefeated at home and on a five game winning streak.

“It’s gonna be a slugfest,” Byington said of the upcoming game. “We’re gonna find out what we’re made of by how we respond after a loss like this.”