What the 12-point win against South Alabama means for the outlook of the season
Georgia Southern has opportunity to continue rise up the Sun Belt East standings
STATESBORO — In her first game against Georgia State as head coach of the Georgia Southern women’s basketball team, Anita Howard was up by 2 points at halftime. The game was on Jan. 25, 2020.
The Eagles used a 30-point barrage in the third quarter to down the visiting Panthers and win the game by 25 points.
In the 81-56 victory, GS scored 50 points off the bench.
“That’s what I love about this team,” Howard said after the game. “Everyone knows their role and does their job. Our starters start us off and then the bench comes in. That third quarter just shows how well we can shoot when we move the ball well.”
GS went on to win four of their remaining games to clinch a spot in the 2020 Sun Belt tournament.
Nearly a year later on Jan. 23, 2020, Howard’s team used a dominant third quarter to wield the team to victory over a top-conference foe.
In Saturday’s season-long series finale against South Alabama, the Eagles outscored the Jaguars 22-4 in the third frame. They built a 15-point lead which was ultimately too much for the visitors to overcome. GS won 68-56 to improve to 3-5 in conference play with 10 games remaining.
Like the game against GSU a year ago, the Eagles used strong contributions from the bench to win — 48 points, 25 rebounds, 10 steals, 3 blocks. Not too bad.
From freshmen to seniors, every player that saw the court had an impact in the Eagles’ victory, but two underclassmen guards stood out — freshman Daeja Holmes and sophomore J’Naya Love-Hill.
Holmes followed her career-high 18-point performance Friday with 11 points in 24 minutes, while shooting 3-for-4 from long range. Her play of the game came in an off the cusp moment in the first quarter.
After a defensive rebound by freshman Terren Ward, the Eagles worked the ball around. The shot clock was winding down and the ball ended in Holmes’ hands. She heaved the ball up while falling into her bench.
“She’s special,” Howard said of Holmes. “She works on those shots in practice, on the run and just playing around. It’s all about how you prepare yourself and she prepares herself to knock down those threes in clutch moments.”
The dazzling plays are fun to watch, but they’re also crucial in conference games down the stretch.
Love-Hill’s play was just as impressive as Holmes. Her play was so good that when Howard turned on the bench to sub-in leading scorer A’tyanna Gaulden, the junior said, “no coach, keep her in. She’s hot.”
The court general orchestrated the offense and was vocal on defense. In 23 minutes, Love-Hill totaled nine points, five rebounds, two steals, a block and an assist. She was a calming tone and added to the depth that Howard brags about.
“We call her 'the brains' for a reason,” Howard said of Love-Hill. “She's a different type of point guard from Daeja [Holmes] and A'Tyanna [Gaulden]. She was able to come in here and control the tempo. She did what we asked her to do, which was to look to push the ball and find the hot hand. She looked to attack the defense, and she put pressure on South Alabama's transition defense by attacking the basket, getting to the free throw line or just making the layup.”
So how does one win in an 18-game conference season set the tone for what’s to come for Howard’s second GS team?
Before this weekend, USA was No. 2 in the Sun Belt East. They’re now in third place in the division.
The win proved that the Eagles are capable of a few things: holding off a hot team (the Jaguars went on an 11-2 run to start the 4th quarter), outrebounding an opponent who is bigger (GS outrebounded USA 43-25) and winning (something that last season only came seven times in conference play.)
Now, the Eagles head to Conway, South Carolina for two games against Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers are 0-6 in conference play and are 3-7 overall on the season. Two wins for GS would be huge for a team looking to build upon a weekend they felt they should have won two.
Two wins would launch the Eagles into at worst fourth place and at best to second in the East.
“We have to continue to play our style of basketball and that’s uptempo. When we do that we’re a really successful team,” Howard said. “We also need to make sure our defense travels.”