AMERICUS -- They've been knocking on the door for a while now, but Tuesday the Hurricanes' men's basketball team officially broke it down.
Georgia Southwestern made its first-ever appearance in the NABC/Division II Coaches Poll at No. 21 on Tuesday after moving to first place in the Peach Belt Conference with a 61-39 win against UNC Pembroke on Sunday.
"For as young as we are in Division II -- we're a fifth-year Division II program -- it's great accomplishment," said GSW head coach Mike Leeder, who took over the program in 2006 after it moved from NAIA to D-II. "It's great for the (athletic) department, the school -- and Americus in general -- to have a basketball team thought of so highly in the country. To think we're the 21st-best team, it's great publicity for the university as a whole."
GSW (11-3 overall, 4-1 in the PBC) has almost six players averaging double figures in scoring this year -- two-time PBC Player of the Week, Phillip Brown (16.4), Trayce Macon (11.6), Evan Mobley (11.5), Talmadge Bell (11.3), Colin Slotter (11.3) and Matt Shaw (9.4).
Brown, who was named PBC Player of the Week on Tuesday for the second week in a row, also leads the conference in rebounding and is fourth in scoring and second in field-goal percentage. Brown has five double-doubles in his last seven games.
The Hurricanes are on a 5-game winning streak, including four in a row in conference play after losing their last game to then-No. 13 USC-Aiken, 75-72, in OT. GSW has not won five in a row since the 2006-07 season, and along the way has beaten Georgia College (for the first time in school history) last week, 80-65, before dismantling Francis Marion (78-56) and UNC Pembroke (61-39) at home.
The Hurricanes sit on top of the West Division at 4-1, a half-game ahead of Clayton State (12-3, 3-1). Only No. 3 Augusta State has a better conference and overall record than the Hurricanes.
"It's a tremendous accomplishment for the guys," Leeder said Tuesday. "We brought in a bunch of new players and they jelled really quickly and I'm proud they're getting recognized for their hard work."
West Liberty (W.V.) and Bellarmine (Ky.) remain the top teams in the poll.
According to the latest statistics on www.ncaa.com, GSW is 15th in the nation in scoring defense and eighth in scoring margin.
The Hurricanes are first in the PBC in scoring defense, scoring margin and field-goal percentage and second in field-goal percentage defense.
The Hurricanes have gotten noticed because of their strong schedule. They've beat teams like Fort Valley State and West Alabama, and have won four conference games in a row.
"I think our league is very good," said Leeder, whose team lost its only conference game, 75-72, to then-No. 13-ranked USC Aiken in overtime. "Any time you're successful in the Peach Belt and show you can be competitive, it shows you have the opportunity to compete nationally. I think our four conference wins in a row have really helped us in the eyes of the people that vote."
The Hurricanes play again today at home against conference foe North Georgia at 7:30 p.m.
Americus Times-Recorder sports editor Chris Whitaker contributed to this report