The Eagles had the youngest team in the country last season, and Byington guided them to a second-straight double-digit win total in Sun Belt play. Tookie Brown was named the Sun Belt Freshman of the Year and first-team all-league, while sophomore Mike Hughes was named third-team all-conference. Now in his fourth campaign at Georgia Southern, Byington owns a 58-49 career record, and his 51 wins in the first three seasons is the best of any Eagle coach in the Division I era.
Despite its youth in 2015-16, Georgia Southern ranked 13th in the country in turnover margin (+3.4), and the Eagles recorded less than 10 turnovers in 10 games and averaged 11.6 per contest. The Eagles averaged 75.9 points a game and scored 80-plus points in 10 games and 100-plus in three contests. Brown (4th), Hughes (9th) and freshman Ike Smith (20th) all ranked in the top-20 in the Sun Belt in scoring, and Georgia Southern set new school records with 3-pointers made (282) and attempted (834) in a season. Georgia Southern averaged 26.9 (21st nationally) attempts and 9.1 makes (27th nationally) a game. The 2014-15 Eagles went 22-9 overall, the program’s first 20-win season in a decade, and 14-6 in their debut season in the Sun Belt to place second in the final regular-season standings. Georgia Southern topped ULM in the Sun Belt Tournament semifinals to reach the program’s first championship game since 1992, and two missed 3-pointers in the final four seconds was the only barrier for the Eagles from a spot in the NCAA Tournament as Georgia Southern fell 38-36 to Georgia State in one of the most memorable Sun Belt Championship games in league history.
In Sun Belt play, the Eagles won nine of their first 11 games, including home wins over UL Lafayette and Georgia State in front of the first sellout crowds since 2009. Georgia Southern went 13-2 in Hanner Fieldhouse, and home attendance increased by more than 600 fans per game.
Jelani Hewitt’s stellar career in the Blue and White concluded in 2015 with 17.6 points per game as he garnered All-Sun Belt first team honors, while Trent Wiedeman was named third-team all-league. Hewitt was invited to the prestigious Portsmouth Invitational Tournament pre-draft camp where he showed his talent to NBA scouts.
Byington earned some awards of his own by claiming NABC District 24 Coach of the Year and the Atlanta Tipoff Club’s Whack Hyder Georgia College Coach of the Year Award. The Eagles’ success was quantified by a 191-place jump in the final NCAA RPI standings, the third-highest ascent in 2014-15.
Byington’s first season (2013-14) brought a new brand of basketball to Statesboro in the programs’ final season in the Southern Conference. The Eagles made their first SoCon Semifinal appearance since 2005 and matched the program’s deepest SoCon Tournament run.
The Eagles averaged 70.8 points per game, scoring more than eight more points per contest than the previous season, as the squad posted its highest scoring output in six years. Along with the increase in scoring, the Eagles cut down on the turnovers, giving the ball away just 403 times, the lowest total since the 1984-85 season.
Hewitt had a major hand in the Eagles’ high-scoring output by posting 19.4 points per game to lead the league in scoring. Senior Tre Bussey had an outstanding season as well, adding 16.2 points per game as both players joined the 1,000 point club and earned all-league honors.
A point of emphasis for Byington has been excellence in the classroom as well as on the hardwood. Since being named the program’s 13th head coach in 2013, Georgia Southern has broken semester GPA records and graduated every senior student-athlete.
No stranger to Georgia Southern, Byington spent nine seasons as an assistant coach at Southern Conference rival College of Charleston, including seven as Bobby Cremins’ top assistant. He was named interim head coach for the final month of the 2011-12 campaign after Cremins took a leave of absence and guided the Cougars to a 7-4 mark in their final 11 contests.
College of Charleston posted an overall record of 194-100 and a 108-51 mark in the SoCon during Byington’s time there. The Cougars recorded six 20-win seasons, logged three SoCon South Division regular-season titles, advanced to the league’s tournament championship game three times and made an appearance in the 2011 NIT. Byington spent the 2012-13 campaign as an assistant under James Johnson at Virginia Tech, where he mentored ACC Player of the Year and future NBA draft second-round pick Erick Green.
A 1998 graduate of UNC Wilmington, Byington earned his bachelor’s degree in physical education and was a three-year starter on the men’s basketball team, earning second-team All-Colonial Athletic Association and All-CAA Defensive Team honors his senior year. A two-time CAA All-Academic selection, he scored more than 1,000 points during his career.
Byington began his coaching career as an assistant at Hargrave Military Academy in 2001-02. He served as the director of basketball operations at the University of Virginia during the 2004-05 season and was a graduate student manager at UVA for two seasons before that. He earned a master’s degree in sports psychology from UVA in December of 2003.
Byington was a basketball standout at Salem High School and was named Player of the Year in the state of Virginia as a senior, leading Salem to the state championship. He also earned honorable mention All-America recognition and was a two-time first-team all-state selection. Following his senior season, he was chosen Most Valuable Player of the Virginia High School League All-Star Game.
Mark and his wife, Christy, have a son, Chase. The family resides in Statesboro.