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Lady Eagles defeat Furman, 71-59

    They led by 13 points late in the first half and 19 midway through the final period, but the Lady Eagles knew they had this one locked up way before that.
 In fact, they sensed it almost immediately.
  Shortly after the first whistle blew, Ashley Rivens jumpstarted Georgia Southern’s slumping offense with a quick layup and junior Shawnda Atwood responded with three consecutive baskets to give GSU a lead it never relinquished. The Eagles went on cruise control from there, halting a two-game skid with a 71-59 Southern Conference victory over Furman Saturday at Hanner Fieldhouse.
    “As soon as we started off, we knew we had this game right then,” said junior guard Tiffany Brown, whose game-high 18 points led four Eagles in double figures.
    The win evened GSU’s record to 1-1 in the league, but perhaps more importantly, the Eagles may have shaken off their recent offensive woes. After shooting less than 30 percent from the field in their last two games, the Eagles (6-7) were 29 of 69 (42 percent) Saturday.
    Atwood scored six of her team’s first eight, which was a welcome sight to her teammates.
    “Shawnda was just hitting them, and that helped us big time,” Brown said. “She just came out shooting.”
    “We needed a lift in the first half to get us ahead, so I was just doing what I can to get us in the game and get us ready to play,” Atwood said. “We knew that we were more aggressive, and we wanted this game really bad.”
    Hoping to offset the taller and bigger Paladins (5-8, 0-2) with speed and pressure, the Eagles opted to go with a four-guard lineup, adding Atwood to the starting five for the first time in 10 games. The tactic worked as GSU forced 22 Furman turnovers, which translated into 20 points. The Eagles also outscored the Paladins in the paint 44-14.
    “We really wanted to turn up the heat against them,” Eagle coach Rusty Cram said. “We felt like we were quicker than them, so we tried to beat them up the floor, and I thought we did a good job of that. In the long run, I thought our quickness paid off.”
    The team’s recent two-a-day practices, which commenced the day after Christmas and focused heavily on shooting, also paid dividends for the Eagles.
    “We got after it right after Christmas, and these kids have worked hard for three or four days now,” Cram said. “They were really focused.”
    After Georgia Southern jumped out to an early lead, the Eagles used a 10-0 run to stretch their advantage to 13 on an Atwood free throw 4:52 before the break. Rivens hit an off-balance jumper at the buzzer to give GSU a 34-26 halftime lead. The Eagles were ahead by double digits most of the second half and by as many as 19 after a steal and fast-break layup by Brown, who tallied five takeaways on the day.
    Atwood added 16 points, while Carolyn Whitney had 13 and Rivens scored 10 for the Eagles. Three Paladins reached double figures led by Jessica Lange with 15.
    Along with the win, the Eagles were also elated to see teammate Taylor Youngblood score her first collegiate basket, a 3-pointer in the first half.
    Georgia Southern continues SoCon play Tuesday, hosting Wofford at 5 p.m.

    Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.

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