‘Put some respect on our name’: Georgia Southern makes statement in second-straight conference win
Women's basketball downs rival App State, 87-56
STATESBORO, GA — Up by 28 points with less than 10 seconds left in a Friday night game, Daeja Holmes threw up a shot from beyond the three-point arc.
It went in.
The Georgia Southern bench erupted as the freshman guard finished off her fourth double-digit game. The Appalachian State coaching staff was visibly upset at their opponents shooting up 30 points rather than dribble it out.
The Eagles continued to celebrate their 87-56 victory, their largest margin of victory in a conference game since GS moved to the Sun Belt in 2014.
“No one is ready for what is to come for Georgia Southern,” said sophomore forward Shondell Vickers. “We’re just now peaking and seeing how good we can be. There are so many scorers on our team and people who are great role players.”
Scoring came easy for the Eagles, who finished 56% from the field. Sophomore guard Jaiden Hamilton led the team with 16 points followed by senior guard Tatum Barber’s 14 points. On the night, Barber shot 4-for-4 from three-point range.
Barber, who is one of a few that has been with GS since the single-digit win total days, was electric. Each shot that went in warranted a louder eruption from the crowd than the shot before it.
After the first shot went in, acting head coach Chris Straker knew it was going to be a good night offensively.
“Typically if she hits that first one, the opposition better look out,” Straker said. “She’s probably going to keep throwing them up there and the chances are that they’re going to go in.”
“I had been struggling a little bit and it is like Coach Straker said that when one goes in for me I start feeling it and just letting it go,” Barber said. “Most of the time when they go in, it’s going to be a good night.”
Barber’s dynamic night went beyond the long ball. She also had four rebounds and a steal in 13 minutes of play. The senior waved her towel and cheered as younger players were active in meaningful conference minutes.
Because Friday night wasn’t about just one on-court performance, though arguments could be made for Barber, Vickers (6 rebounds, 5 points, 3 assists) and Simone James (5 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks). It was more about all of the things that didn’t find their way to the stat sheet.
Coaching one another when they were subbed out, playing impenetrable defense and celebrating every basket from the first to the 45th.
“We want to be a championship program,” Straker said, definitively. “To be elite, you need your veteran players to lead and you need them to take ownership of the program during the game. We did a good job of that tonight. Whether the players were playing two minutes or 32 minutes, they were engaged and encouraged each other on the sidelines.”
The dominant performance kept the Eagles at the top of the Sun Belt standings with 15 games to go. It was the first sign this season that GS is capable of a postseason run.
“It definitely puts some respect on our name,” Barber said. “Going further into the season, people are going to be a little more nervous when playing us and they might have to practice a little more than they would before they play us.”
Other news and notes
After the teams took the court, one crucial member was missing — GS head coach Anita Howard. Her absence was due to a 7-day isolation for COVID-19 close contact tracing, according to SID Chad Jackson.
Straker, who was acting head coach and will be again in Saturday’s game, said that the game was still Howard’s.
“We found out Sunday night or Monday that this was probably going to be the situation,” Straker said. “It gave us the opportunity to make sure Coach Howard had her fingerprints in everything we did in the game plan from preparation, how we planned for practice and the corrections we made each day. Coach Howard has been behind this every step.”
Vickers was named Sun Belt Player of the Week after her lights out showcases against South Alabama. In the two games against the Jaguars in Mobile, Vickers averaged 12 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists and 1 block per game.
“Personally, I felt like I had something to prove,” Vickers said Friday. “We were playing against the preseason player of the year (against South Alabama) and I felt like I had a statement to make. Although she gave us a challenge, I think we did a good job of containing her.”
Outside of basketball, the United States underwent change and turmoil. On Wednesday, a pro-Donald Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. after Georgia democratic senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won senate seats in Tuesday’s runoff election.
Straker commended his team in their efforts to vote while still staying focused on playing basketball.
“It’s been a really difficult and challenging time for the community and the nation. It’s a testament to our players that they’ve been able to keep their mental focus as far as basketball goes,” Straker said. “At the same time, those that were registered to vote in Georgia did their voting. They’re aware and they’re socially very smart young ladies and they were involved. They did an incredible job this week of balancing the two.”
At 2-1 in Sun Belt play, the Eagles will host App State for the backend of a two-game series Saturday in Hanner Fieldhouse. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m.
Out of town brief
The Georgia Southern men’s basketball team fell to Appalachian State Friday night in Boone, North Carolina, 66-63 to fall to 1-2 in conference play.
Down by one, the Eagles had the opportunity to take the lead as Eric Boone got the ball to Prince Toyambi, but the jump shot went off the glass.
Toyambi led GS with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Boone had 10 points. Michael Almoncey led the Mountaineers with 14 points.
The Eagles will look to rebound from the loss as the two teams square off again Saturday at 4 p.m. in Boone.