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Eagles head into Devils' den tonight

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    It is perhaps the most revered facility in all of college basketball, a setting unlike any other where the undergraduates get the best seats in the house and gratefully respond by creating an atmosphere that earns nationwide respect.
    It is Cameron Indoor Stadium, and Georgia Southern will get a chance to play there tonight when the Eagles open their 2006-07 campaign against UC Davis in the first round of the College Basketball Experience Classic in Durham, N.C. (6 p.m., ESPNU). Duke and Columbia will meet in the tournament’s 8 p.m. game.
    Cameron Indoor ranked first in the top 25 toughest places to play in EA Sports' NCAA March Madness 2005 and ‘06, while Sports Illustrated named it one of the world's top 20 sporting venues and USA Today tabbed it “the toughest road game in the nation.”
    “Cameron Indoor Stadium is one of the most prestigious college courts in the world, so it’s going to be big,” junior forward Louis Graham said.
    Eighth-year GSU coach Jeff Price agrees.
    “It’ll certainly be the most prestigious place we’ve played,” he said. “I think all of our guys are excited just by the opportunity to play in Cameron. It will be a great experience for them.”
    The Eagles, coming off of a 20-win season and a Southern Conference championship, will be up against a UC Davis team the Eagles expect to be much improved. The Aggies were 8-20 last year but return four starters. UCD brings back a total of eight lettermen, including four who averaged more than 9.7 points per game a year ago. Senior guard Rommell Marentez led the team in scoring (12.7 ppg), free-throw percentage (78.8), assists (95) and steals (52).
    “It’s always a concern when you are playing experience, and they are a very experienced team,” Price said. “They are a tremendous 3-point shooting team. We are going to have to guard the 3-point line at all positions because they can really shoot it.”
    The Eagles, who lost last year’s go-to guy and Southern Conference Player of the Year Elton Nesbitt, return three starters and welcome seven newcomers.
    “We are really ready to get this started,” senior guard Donte Gennie said. “It’s just time to see what everyone has right now, where we are and if everybody is on the same page. I just hope everybody can come together and we can gel right now and get that first win.”
    Georgia Southern is wholeheartedly trying not to look past tonight’s game with UCD, but the Eagles simply can’t ignore what lies ahead – a chance to play Duke in the second round of the tournament Monday night.
    “It’s going to be a great opportunity to play in Cameron, but first you have to win in Cameron to play Duke,” Graham said. “It’s going to be a great experience. We’ve just got to focus on UC Davis, get that out of the way and then we can focus on Duke.”

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