Georgia Sports Edition

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The New Clubs

By: Rich Styles news services

In January of every year, 40,000 people within the golf industry gather in Orlando, FL for the PGA Merchandise Show. I was one of those.

It is always amazing to me each year how many companies pay thousands of dollars to set up booths, bring in staff and products to show off what they have that is new for the year.

The audience walks around, when you can get through the crowds and lines, to look at all that is new in equipment, training aids, apparel, golf cars, snacks, etc. All related to golf.  It is quite overwhelming to say the least.

After spending weeks setting appointments for interviews on the back9boys golf show, there are always a a few surprises. Here are a few….

I got to spend a few minutes talking with Sir Nick Faldo, Masters Champion and currently one of the best announcers on the Golf Channel. Sir Nick wanted to talk about a course, Bella Colina, he designed and will not make it easier to play through a renovation. Sir Nick called the course “a brut”.

He talked about the athletes that now play the game. They are all built, in shape, eat right, workout regularly, have great swings and are mentally tough.  By the way, they can hit the ball a mile, sometimes more.

I asked Sir Nick why he wasn’t playing on the Champions Tour, he said he can’t play

like he did years ago, winning tournament on both continents. He would have to put in long hours practicing and basically get in “golf shape”.

He is grateful and blessed to be able to stay close to golf with his gig on the Golf Channel. He was a pleasure to spend a few minutes with but you go away with many more questions that you would have liked to ask. Next time.

Then I had another surprise….John O’Hurley, who played Mr. Peterman on

Seinfeld. Can you believe that was twenty years ago. He loves the game of golf and belongs to two country clubs in LA. He was there with his wife, who works with a travel golf company, Garmany Golf.

John was gracious to spend time with me to talk about his love for golf. He plays in a lot of Pro-Am Tournaments all over the world. He has seen good swings and I am sure not so good swings of the amateurs.

He said the Mr. Peterman role was incredible. He got to work with the staff who all were in their prime and loved being in a show about nothing. Many still call him, Mr. Peterman. He was delight and I hope we cross paths again, this time on a golf course.

Another surprise was having a few minutes with Lexi Thompson.  Winner of many LPGA tournaments. She was much taller than I thought, but I guess that means I am shorter than I thought I was.

She was being asked by many to sign autographs, pose for pictures (yes, even with me) and do interviews. She visited several booths of which she endorses their clubs, apparel, product or service. Very nice lady who can hit the ball a mile.

By the way, now members of her family, now her brother, caddie for her on tour.

Yes, I did my seventeen miles of walking from one end of the convention center to the other doing interviews and taking in all that is new in golf equipment, apparel, golf cars, training aids, energy bars, etc.

Every year I say I will skip next year. But I have gone five years in a row so I guess I will be back in 2020. After all, there will be new stuff to see, feel and touch. Yes, samples are appreciated.


Bee Killer

By: Kenneth Harrison Jr. news services

The Josh Pastner era at Georgia Tech has not been successful thus far. Since taking over as head coach in 2016, he had his best record during his first season, going 21 – 16. The following 2017 – 18 season Tech was 13 – 19.

At this point it might be time for Tech (11–9, 3–4 ACC) to pull the plug. Judging from his previous track record the Yellow Jackets are in for diminishing returns. Pastner replaced John Calipari at Memphis in 2009 and he initially had success.

He led the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament in four of the seven seasons he coached. In his final two seasons his teams went 18 – 14 (2014-15) and 19 – 15 (2015-16).

He has struggled to have consistent success in Atlanta and that has caused the program to accept mediocrity. He has a losing record against Clemson, only beating them once. Clemson is not a basketball powerhouse so that is alarming. The Tigers lost their first three ACC games going in to the Tech game and they won, 72 – 60.

The Ramblin’ Wreck has actually lost their last 14 games at Clemson. Tech has to win games against these types of opponents in order to have a chance at making it into the postseason. I can understand not having success against Duke and UNC but they have to beat the average ACC teams.

Before conference play began, they lost games against teams that are also struggling. In the ACC/Big Ten Challenge they lost to Northwestern. This is a program that just made their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance in 2017 and they are currently ninth in the Big Ten.

They also lost to St. John’s, Gardner-Webb and Georgia. St. John’s is sixth in the new Big East. A non-power five team like Gardner-Webb should not be able to come to Atlanta and win by ten points like they did. The Bulldogs (12-9) are seventh in the Big South so they are not one of the elite small school teams.

Losing to UGA is not acceptable because that’s obviously Tech’s biggest rival. It’s also alarming because the Dawgs (10-9) are struggling and are 11th in SEC play.

It’s going to be an uphill battle to have a winning record in conference play. They lost a close game to No. 12 Virginia Tech 52 – 49.

Georgia Tech beat Syracuse (14-6) on the road so that is a good win. The next game Syracuse beat No. 1 Duke. That gave fans hope that maybe they have a chance against the Blue Devils.

We saw that game this past weekend and Tech played much better than I expected. They played at Cameron Indoor Stadium, which is probably the toughest venue for road teams. They actually led No. 2 Duke at halftime by two points. They held the Blue Devils to a season-low 27 first-half points.

Then the Yellow Jackets extended the lead to eight points early in the second half. After that, Duke’s superior talent took over and they won 66 – 53.

“That’s our only way of survival in this league,” Pastner said. “We have to be really, really good defensively, and that’s who we’ve been in our time here. … That’s just kind of who we are and what we do, and if we don’t do that, we’re not going to have any chance of success.”

The next game is at home against No. 9 North Carolina. At this point we can almost guarantee another season without a tournament appearance. Once that happens, it’s time to make a coaching change.

A Louder Bark

By: JJ Lanier news services

I was a sophomore in high school, driving around in a lime-green Chevy Chevette with a neon orange bumper sticker that read “Save gas, fart in a jar” the last time the Georgia men’s basketball program “officially” won a game in the NCAA tournament. (I’m sure I don’t have to remind you the 2002 win has been vacated, but just in case, that’s why it’s not counted.)

It’s been twenty-three years since the ‘96 team advanced to the round of 32 and while I don’t think that feeling of loss is going to change this year, there are definitely signs the streak could come to an end within the next two years.

Normally when a program has suffered through this type of drought, especially when playing in a major conference, it has to do with some mixture of coaching, talent, and sanctions. In Georgia’s case they hit the ineptitude trifecta.

It’s always been difficult to recruit top level talent to Athens, but I know the hope was all that would change when Tom Crean was hired; finally, a coach with the cache to bring in that top tier talent.

Crean has already started to show promise on the recruiting trail with two commitments from 4-star recruits and could really bolster things if he is able to land Anthony Edwards, a 5-star guard out of Atlanta. (Edwards is a heavy Florida State lean, but stranger things have happened.)

That being said, the likelihood of the Bulldogs making and winning a NCAA tournament game in the next two years isn’t based on who is entering the program, but rather the three standout sophomores currently on the team.

I doubt there was much fanfare when Nicolas Claxton, Rayshaun Hammonds, and Teshaun Hightower arrived on campus, but the trio are proving to be a sturdy foundation on which Crean can rebuild the program on.

Claxton is having an all-conference season this year and Hammonds isn’t too far behind and should be mentioned in the conversation of all conference player next year.

Hightower on the other hand has that aura of a being the player who tends be an afterthought when compared to the other two, but is quietly one of the most vital players on the team.

Really, besides injury or someone leaving early for the NBA, the only thing I see preventing them for turning things around is the fact the SEC has become a very good basketball conference. If I’m not mistaken it was just a few seasons ago where you had Kentucky in the Top 25 and maybe one other SEC team, but that was about it.

Now the conference has two to three legitimate top 10 teams and about six or seven that deserve the be in the top 25.

Georgia could arguably have their best team in years when the season starts next year, but struggle because the rest of the league has upped their game.

The talent is starting to show, as evident in Georgia’s recent victory over Texas, but it’s still a young team.

Tom Crean was brought in to bring respectability back to the men’s basketball program. Entering this season, it would’ve been easy to think he would need to bring in his own players to achieve that, but there are a few current players who don’t want to wait.

I parted ways with my old Chevette years ago; I think Georgia’s basketball team will be parting ways with their years of futility soon, too.

Super Running Back U

By: Kipp Branch news services

When the Patriots selected Sony Michel in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft you just knew he would come in and have a great year with the franchise of the century.

Michel along with Nick Chubb had great rookie seasons in the league which is no surprise as the both came from the University of Georgia or better known as Running Back U.

Now, you have a marquee matchup with Running Back U legends in Super Bowl LIII in Sony and Running Back U legend Todd Gurley or TG3 as superstars have their own tag line.

Other than Herschel, I have never seen a more talented back at UGA than Gurley. He has the size, speed, and vision that is makes him a generational running back.

TG3 is currently the best running back in the NFL, which makes him the best running back in football period.

TG3 just has a knack for scoring touchdowns. Gurley has been a major factor in the resurgence of the Los Angeles Rams as they make their first Super Bowl appearance in 18 years.

Sony Michel is a beloved player in UGA circles. The Rose Bowl performance against Oklahoma makes him an all-time great with just that game alone. Sony always had a knack for making big plays a key time in big games during his UGA career.

My wife has his #1 UGA jersey hanging in the closet and puts it on every Saturday for UGA games. Sony is not big, sneaky fast, but has great vision and just seems to always make someone miss and he just makes plays.

Now the two RBU legends face each other in the Super Bowl next week. TG3 had a huge 100-yard performance against a Dallas Cowboy run defense that looked like Swiss Cheese in the divisional series, which sent the Cowboy nation back into their 23-year annual hibernation.

That alone makes him a hero in my book. He didn’t play much due to being banged up in the NFC title games against the Saints, but he will be ready in the Super Bowl. Look for him and the high-powered Rams offense to have a good day.

Sony, in my opinion is the biggest reason why the Patriots are back this year. Sony has been a steady threat in the run game and teams can’t just focus on stopping Tom Brady they now have to stop a balanced offense. That makes New England ever more dangerous as the Chargers and Chiefs just found out. Sony ran wild against the Chargers and Chiefs with back to back 100-yard games.

Running Back U will be on full display in Super Bowl LIII with Gurley and Michel. Any high-profile high school running back looking for a place to get ready for the NFL, look no further than the University of Georgia. RBU puts backs in the league.

I don’t really care who wins Super Bowl LIII, so I will be pulling for Running Back U to have huge games. Wouldn’t it be great if UGA produced another Super Bowl MVP?

What college has produced more Super Bowl MVP’s than UGA? Gator and Auburn fans look that up and let me know.

A Brave Division?

By: Mike Anthony news services

In recent years, the Major League Baseball offseason has routinely fit into a pattern of ebbs and flows.

With ‘Moneyball’ and sabermetric zealots convincing many teams to focus on building a farm system and putting the MLB club fortunes on hold for years at a time, the offseason has become a slow dance between teams that figure to contend in the coming summer and fall.

And while the biggest names – Bryce Harper and Manny Machado – that figure to move before opening day are still question marks, it’s very possible that the Atlanta Braves have done enough to solidify their spot atop the National League East without breaking the bank or grasping for headlines.

The Braves were the surprise winners of their division last season. After the dust settled, the Braves’ title looked much more like the payoff of shrewd front office moves and the requisite luck to win a hard-fought division than the anomaly that they were treated as while the 2018 season was in motion.

Simply put, the Braves weren’t overly flashy (Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna notwithstanding) in advancing to the postseason for the first time since 2013. The key to Atlanta’s success was that it had a seemingly never-ending supply of guys who could get the job done on any given day.

So, while big headlines are sure to be made as the offseason’s marquee free agents sign blockbuster deals in the coming weeks, the Braves can sleep easy knowing that they’re as prepared to make a deep playoff run as any team that signs a potential MVP through free agency.

Atlanta enters 2019 with a perennial MVP contender in Freddie Freeman and having added a former American League MVP in Josh Donaldson to play third base.

Acuna will play a full year in left field, Nick Markakis has just been resigned to play right field after a huge 2018 campaign, and the trio of Ender Inciarte, Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson forms a middle of the defensive lineup that is as dominating as it is young.

The starting rotation may lack nationwide name recognition without a recognized frontline guy, but the Braves’ top five was as effective as any in the National League last season.

The bullpen was a question, but everything points towards the Braves digging in and mounting a strong defense of last year’s division championship.

So, there is the optimism for Braves fans. And for fans of any MLB squad, optimism is what this time of year is all about.

The Big Game

By: Kenneth Harrison Jr. news services

The teams for Super Bowl LIII are New England and the Los Angeles Rams. The game is February 3rd in Atlanta. Both teams were the number two seed in their conference and they had to go on the road to beat the top seed. Both conference championship games went into overtime as well.

This is a tale of two completely different franchises. The Patriots are the best dynasty this century and maybe in NFL history. They have appeared in the Super Bowl 11 times, the most of any team. Since 2001 they have made it to the big game 9 times, winning 5 of them. This is their third consecutive appearance.

Ironically the Bill Belichick and Tom Brady dynasty started with a win in 2002 against the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.

The Pats have been counted out most of the season even though they are 11-5. Statistically they are not as impressive, as we have seen in the past. Brady is seventh in the league in passing yards and tenth in passing touchdowns.

New England lost their biggest playmaker, wide receiver Josh Gordon in December. He was suspended indefinitely by the league for violating the terms of his reinstatement under the league’s substance abuse policy.

Rob Gronkowski is also having a down year with only 47 receptions, 682 yards and 3 touchdowns on the season.

The Rams are the best team money can buy. They have two players that are the highest paid player at their position, defensive tackle Aaron Donald ($22.5 mill per year) and running back Todd Gurley ($14.375 mill).

They both were worth the money. Gurley was third in the league in rushing with 1,251 and first in rushing touchdowns with 17. He also had 59 catches, 580 yards and 4 receiving TD’s.  Donald led the league in sacks with 20.5.

The Rams also added former Pro Bowlers Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters and Ndamukong Suh to the defense in the offseason.

Jared Goff is only in his third year and he is one of the best young QB’s in the NFL. He was fourth in passing yards and sixth in passing touchdowns.

This is a homecoming for Rams head coach Sean McVay. He grew up in Atlanta and was a four year starter at QB for Marist.

On paper LA is the more talented team. I believe there are several teams that are more talented than New England but they continue to overcome that with superior coaching. For example, both of their playoff opponents, the LA Chargers and Kansas City had superior talent.

We have two recent examples of the Pats playing talented yet inexperienced teams in the Super Bowl with different results. In Super Bowl LI the Atlanta Falcons raced out to a 28 – 3 lead in the third quarter. As we all know New England came back to win 34 – 28.

Last season, against Philadelphia and backup quarterback Nick Foles, they lost 41 – 33. Foles threw for 373 yards and 3 TD’s.

The reason I point that out is because I would have expected a Belichick coached defense with two weeks to prepare to perform better. I also don’t view Foles as a great quarterback. Going in to the NFC Championship I did not have much confidence in Goff. Now I think he can actually lead LA to victory.

Both defenses have played well in the postseason. The Rams are second in yards per game and the Patriots are fourth.

I can never bet against New England in a big game so I give them the edge to win.

State Champs?

By: JJ Lanier news services

While both the Georgia and Georgia Tech basketball programs seem to be in a race back to mediocrity- one that neither team looks to be in a hurry to achieve- Georgia State has made a strong argument to carry the mantle of “best college basketball program in Georgia”.

It’s easy to dismiss what the Panthers have accomplished over the last five years. Including this season, since they play in the Sun Belt conference, but that would be a mistake.

Over that five years span, Georgia State has had more appearances in the NCAA than both Georgia and Georgia Tech combined (two to one) and is the only school with a tournament win, advancing to the Round of 32 in 2015 and 2018.

As a point of reference, the last time Tech won a NCAA tournament game was 2010. Georgia’s last tournament victory came in 2002, which technically has been vacated, so it’s actually 1996.

This year the Panthers have the most dynamic and arguably the best player of the three schools in D’Marcus Simonds, as well as Ron Hunter, whom I believe is the second-best coach of the three, behind Tom Crean.

(I’ve always thought Josh Pastner was overrated, and to be completely honest with you, I’d be surprised if he’s still coaching the Yellow Jackets after next season. Crean, I think, is a good coach that was in a little over his head in Indiana, but is a good fit in Athens.)

Georgia State was also crowned the de facto winners of the completely made up title “Intrastate champions of the sport most Georgia fans only watch when their remote is broken and they don’t want to walk over to the TV to change the channel”.

They were awarded this absolutely ridiculous title after Georgia defeated Georgia Tech, courtesy of Georgia State’s 91-67 victory over the Bulldogs. Basically, they’re state champions, in the loosest sense of the word.

There’s also a good chance when you include Georgia State’s victory over Alabama, that even though they aren’t in the SEC they will enter February with as many SEC conference wins as the Bulldogs-two.

Again, while they play in a lesser conference, they have more than proven they can compete when going up against a team from a major conference. Sure, they may not be able to hang with the Duke’s and Kentucky’s of the world, but there aren’t a lot of teams that can.

Even though their entire season and whether they’ll be back in the NCAA tournament will basically come down to the Sun Belt Conference tournament, they are still the state’s best shot at making the big dance.

Barring some unforeseen miracle occurring with either the Yellow Jackets or Bulldogs, both of their tournament hopes will rest on winning their respective conference tournaments, too. I don’t know about you, but if I have to choose between those three, I’m going with the Panthers.

As I mentioned, given the chance I think Tom Crean will have the Georgia program back to respectability within the next years. And given the law of averages, Georgia Tech is bound to trip up and bring in someone that can lead them back to the tournament with some semblance of consistency.

Until that time arrives, when it comes to basketball in the state of Georgia, the Georgia State Panthers are the team to beat.

Add another trip to the tournament this year and the rest of country may find out just how good they are, too.


Bad Bounces

By: TJ Hartnett news services

Turnovers are a part of any NBA game. It’s like strikeouts in a baseball game or having the punt the ball in football. They will happen. But how often they happen can make or break a season.

Only once this season have the Atlanta Hawks committed less than 10 turnovers in a game and they lost that game anyway.

On the other end of the spectrum, they have over 15 games with at least 20 turnovers, far and away the worst in the league. Some teams have a one or two players responsible for high turnover rates, but for the Hawks, it’s pretty much everyone. And they aren’t bad, they are historically awful.

All things in balance, since the Hawks have an excellent shot profile and they don’t take very many mid-range shots, those shots lead to an increased turnover rate, and defenses are adept at stopping Atlanta’s offense in that situation. It’s not entirely to blame for the awful turnover rate, but it’s a big area of concern.

The issue is that a team chocked full of rookies and other young players are being tasked with taking almost exclusively three points or layups. Trae Young and Kevin Huerter just don’t have the experience to handle the ball with regularity and prevent turnovers. Veteran players like Kent Bazemore, who isn’t a ball handler by trade, are out of their element when asked to do so.

Jeremy Lin turns the ball over nearly twenty percent of the time. Taurean Prince, Dewayne Dedmon and Alex Len all turn the ball over more than 15% of the time. Young and Huerter have growing to do, but the fact that the team’s seasoned players are having career-worst seasons is inexcusable.

The coaching staff has, somewhat inexplicably, not found the time to be concerned about the turnovers.

Granted, the correlation between turnovers and team success has lessened in the past decade and a half, but Coach Pierce is not working on fixing the problem. Instead, he has made it clear that he’d rather his team throw the ball around and grow without strict oversight. It’s understandable for the youth, but those veterans are being allowed free reign to turn the ball over with impunity.

The call is probably right. Trae Young will learn by doing, and he will stumble and he will turn the ball over; but he’s also a talent the likes of which haven’t been seen in Atlanta in a long time.

He’s an incredible passer and with each turnover he will figure out what not to do, and before we all blink, he’ll be one of the best in the league at making plays.

Ditto for Huerter and Jason Collins, who turn the ball over more than anyone would like but need to be given the freedom to explore what they can do with the ball in their hands and hone those skills, rather than be typecast into certain roles this early in their career.

The veterans on the team shouldn’t have that same luxury, but it’s certainly understandable if Pierce feels that he can’t chew out a veteran for the same turnover a rookie is making without losing a bit of credibility with the older guys.

Atlanta’s turnover problem is massive and is holding them back from making the next step (even amid improved overall play) in terms of offensive output, but there’s a method to Pierce’s madness.

The long-term development of players like Young, Huerter, and Collins will have speed bumps along the way; it’s just an unfortunate coincidence that the rest of the team seems to have followed suit in this specific area.

The Burning Questions

By: Kipp Branch news services

40 sports questions that need answers in our surrounding area:

Is the window really closing on the Georgia Bulldogs national title hopes or is it just media hype to stir up the Dawg nation?

Will Jake Fromm lead UGA to a National Title?

Will Zamir White return to five star form in 2019?

Will Kirby Smart pass Vince Dooley in career wins at UGA?

Will Georgia Tech be a factor in the ACC now that the Jackets have ditched that high school offense?

Will Georgia Tech focus on the Atlanta metro area and state of Georgia and be a factor in recruiting?

How long will Geoff Collins survive at Georgia Tech?

Will Alabama start to decline under Nick Saban?

Will Gus Malzahn get fired during or after the 2019 season?

Is Dabo Swinney now the best coach in college football?

Is the heat about to get turned up on Will Muschamp at South Carolina?

Will the Atlanta Hawks ever graduate from the NBA Draft Lottery?

Will the Atlanta Falcons ever get back to Super Bowl form?

Is Matty Ice still a top five QB in the NFL?

Has Julio Jones peaked or will he continue to put up huge numbers?

When will the Falcons be feared on defense again?

Will the Jacksonville Jaguars bring in Joe Flacco and draft Drew Lock in the 2019 draft and fix their QB woes?

Will the Brunswick High boys’ basketball team make another deep run in the state playoffs?

Will the Brunswick High Pirates bounce back and be a factor in the region football race this fall?

Will the Brunswick High baseball squad win the region title in 2019?

Will the Frederica Knights have a solid title defense in football in 2019?

Will the Baseball Knights get back to the state finals in baseball this year?

Will Glynn Academy win its fifth region title in a row in football in 2019?

Will the Terrors beat BHS in football for a sixth straight time in 2019?

Will the Terror soccer teams bring home a state championship this year?

Will the Lady Terror basketball squad make a region title run in 2019?

Is Rocky Hidalgo the greatest football coach in GA history?

Is Darius Slay the best football player ever to play in Glynn County?

Will the Miami Hurricanes ever give Dee Jay Dallas a shot at playing QB?

Will Randon Jernigan lead the SEC in stolen bases before his UGA career is complete?

Who was the better football team the 1964 Glynn Academy Red Terrors, 1999 Brunswick High Pirates, or 2018 Frederica Academy Knights?

Will the Atlanta Braves trade for a front line starter before the start of spring training?

Will Julio Tehran be the opening day starter again for the Braves?

Is Ronald Acuna Jr. a future NL MVP?

Will the Braves win a World Series before Freddie Freeman retires?

Who will play right field for the Braves in 2019?

Will Josh Donaldson play an entire season without going on the DL for Atlanta?

Will the Braves win the NL East in 2019?

Who is the greatest athlete to ever come out of the state of Georgia?

Who is the most followed sports team in the entire state of Georgia?

Have I given you enough to think about yet?

Eagles Unlucky Feathers

By: Mike Anthony news services

To say that this season is “now-or-never” for the Georgia Southern men’s basketball team might be laying it on thick.

Sure, the Eagles have a trio of seniors in Tookie Brown, Ike Smith and Montae Glenn that have been the core of the team since forced into action as freshmen. It would be a shame for the group to rack up over a half-dozen All-Sun Belt nods between them without an NCAA tournament appearance to show for their effort.

But college basketball is as fickle a game as ever. A tough-luck loss here and an injury there can take even the best teams and leave them scrambling for a spot in March Madness.

There are still two full months of play remaining before the national tournament field is filled out, but Georgia Southern currently sits in that unenviable spot of being a team with a lot of potential that can’t seem to catch a break.

The season began with Iowa State transfer and expected frontcourt starter Simeon Carter sidelined for the first few weeks as he recovered from offseason surgery.

The concussion bug that bit Brown last season sank its teeth into two more Eagle reserves early in the season. That hurt the depth that head coach Mark Byington said would be key in the up-tempo transition game that the Eagles attempt to run throughout each game.

Soon after Carter got onto the floor, both Smith and Glenn went down with injuries. The Eagles were down two starters in their first two conference games and while Glenn was back in limited action.

Smith had to undergo surgery on his back. He hasn’t played since Dec. 14 against Brewton-Parker. Word from the team is that he will suit up soon, but no official return date has been announced.

Adding insult to the Eagles’ injury was a Saturday night showdown with Sun Belt power UL Lafayette. The Eagles and Ragin’ Cajuns have played plenty of exciting games at Hanner Fieldhouse since becoming conference rivals in the 2014-15 season.

Saturday was no exception as ULL controlled the action early before Georgia Southern attempted to win for a sixth time this season after trailing by at least 10 points in a game.

The Eagles looked to have pulled it off when Quan Jackson forced a steal and hit a layup for a one-point lead with 12 seconds to play, but a highly suspect traveling call took the points off the board and the Eagles went on to lose.

Georgia Southern is far from out of the running in what should be a very competitive Sun Belt race, but the bad breaks already suffered have to be wearing on the Eagles.

A blown lead at Texas State and Saturday’s controversial loss have the Eagles sitting at 2-2 in conference action. A quick look at the 14 remaining Sun Belt games also reveals that the Eagles’ toughest road games still lie ahead. Due to some unlucky scheduling, they will only have one game against some of the weaker Sun Belt teams as other front-runners have a pair of chances to fatten up.

None of this should be an excuse for the Eagles. They’re far from the only team dealing with injuries or ‘what-ifs’ of close games, but the first two months have been a stinging reminder that having a deep, talented and experienced roster on paper doesn’t win any games on the court.

The good news is that the Eagles are trending towards being healthier and still have plenty of time to work their way up the standings.

But the regular season will be over before long and a conference-wide letdown in early season play pretty much guaranteed that the Sun Belt will be just a one-bid league to the NCAA tournament.

So, it’s time for the Eagles to kick it into gear. They have the talent to get the job done, but it will take a good finish to the regular season and an even better showing for one final week in New Orleans in March.

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