‘Until we win tomorrow, we haven’t won yet’: Georgia Southern not getting too high following Friday night’s upset of conference-leading Troy
Career night for three Eagles, led by Eden Johnson’s 20 points
STATESBORO — For all of the coverage and cameras that surround the Georgia Southern basketball programs, there still exists a place where no media members, no administrators and no team spokespeople are allowed — locker room at halftime.
Intermission huddles, whiteboard talks and adjustments are left for speculation.
Following Friday night’s GS women’s basketball game, players described head coach Anita Howard’s halftime speeches.
“It’s all Coach Howard for sure,” freshman Terren Ward said. “(The halftime speeches are) intense, but we need it. She tells us what we need to do and we come out here and produce.”
“She says the things people are afraid to say,” redshirt-freshman Eden Johnson said. “She’s really real with us. Like Terren said, we need it.”
In back-to-back games, Howard’s team met in the locker room at halftime with a deficit. In both games though, the Eagles responded to the halftime deficit with a dominant third quarter.
Friday against defending Sun Belt champion and division-leading Troy, the dominant third quarter came via 31 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and shooting 59% from the field. Once down by 16 points, GS took a lead in the third quarter and would do just enough to oust the Trojans, winning 96-91 in the first of two games this weekend.
So about that halftime speech?
“What happens in the locker room stays in the locker room, but that’s really the beauty of this team,” Howard said. “We do have a lot of winners on our bench, whether they won state championships or coming from dominant programs. I don’t think in the locker room there was one person who thought we were going to lose. I didn’t have to huff and puff or anything. I just said, ‘hey we didn’t play our best basketball and we’re not getting blown out.’”
The Eagles trailed Troy by 13 at the break.
Out of the locker room, they used an 11-2 run to force Troy to use a rare timeout. Within striking distance, Howard knew it was only a matter of time before her team took the lead.
The 31 points in the third quarter came from everywhere. Johnson and sophomore Mya Burns each had seven points, Ward had six, senior A’Tyanna Gaulden had three points and three assists.
The chemistry and understanding that Troy’s lead wasn't absolute helped a youth-led GS team earn the program’s first victory against the Trojans.
“(Beating Troy has) been something that’s been on our mind since the beginning of the season,” said Johnson, who finished with a team-high and career-high 20 points. “I stayed focused the whole game. At one point, I stopped looking at the clock and stopped looking at the score and just stayed in the game.”
As a team, the Eagles finished with 21 assists and Howard echoed how crucial her team’s selflessness was in the victory.
“We will always be better when we play by committee,” she said. “Some of our better players didn’t hardly play tonight, but they were some of our biggest cheerleaders. Senior Tatum Barber did a phenomenal job on the bench. She let me know she was ready, but she didn’t sit over there and sulk. Daeja Holmes, it was her birthday today and she was wanting to have a big game, but she was standing up and cheering for her teammates.”
The win ended a 17-game losing streak to Troy, gave GS back-to-back wins for just the second time this season and had several players talking about championship aspirations.
It was both a moral and literal win for the Eagles, who “got the monkey off their back” as Howard stated.
But there’s still a lot of basketball to be played.
“We have to play them again,” Ward said. “Until we win tomorrow, we haven’t won yet. That’s how I look at it.”
“We want to be undefeated in February. We did that today,” Howard said. “You want to enjoy your successes. I’m going to allow the ladies to enjoy this. But this is not the championship. This is not March 8 in Pensacola, Florida. We’re not going to get too high over this win.”
Other news and notes
Three players had career-high scoring nights for GS in Burns (17), Johnson (20) and Ward (17). Rather than bask in the excitement, they stayed humble in their moments.
“To be honest, it’s all my point guards,” Ward said. “They calm me down. They let me know that we have time to come back.”
Johnson agreed, saying that her team was the reason she needed to have a good game.
As many points and assists the Eagles put up, the area both players and Howard harped on was rebounding. Troy led GS in rebounding, 45-38.
“I know they outrebounded us today,” Johnson said. “If we can get more rebounds tomorrow, it’s a no-brainer.”
The last two minutes of a college basketball game seemingly always last more than two minutes. There’s fouling, timeouts, turnovers.
For Howard, it was important for her girls to close out the victory and play the entire 40 minutes, which they did.
“I don’t want to be that ‘rara’ coach in those types of moments,” Howard said. “We want to relax them. We talk about being poised under pressure and calm is contagious.”
Following last weekend’s games against Coastal Carolina being postponed due to COVID-19 issues in the Chanticleers’ program, Johnson was relieved for a weekend off, but quickly turned that time of rest into time of preparation.
“After the games got cancelled, I think we were really hurt,” Johnson said. “After that we snapped back into it and focused on our next job. Troy was our next job.”
One of the games that was postponed has been rescheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 16 in Conway, South Carolina. The other game has been canceled and deemed a no-contest.
Out of town brief
The men’s eight-game winning streak against Troy ended Friday in Alabama, where the Trojans forced 19 turnovers and defeated GS 68-56. Eric Boone led GS in scoring with 16 points while also coming down with five rebounds. Kamari Brown had 13 points and Cam Bryant had nine points and four rebounds.
MBB: 11-9; 5-6 @ Troy (9-9; 4-5) Saturday at 5 p.m. Eastern
WBB: 8-8; 4-5 vs Troy (11-5; 7-2) Saturday at 4 p.m. Eastern
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