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Eagles face old rival as Georgia State comes to town
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Georgia Southern guards Jelani Hewitt, left, and Ben Drayton, right, put the squeeze on South Alabama's Tim Williams while going for a loose ball in the first half of Saturday's game at Hanner Fieldhouse. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

A lot has changed since Georgia Southern and Georgia State were battling for Trans America Athletic Conference championships in the early 1990s.

Both teams are in different leagues now, but there’s still a few folks around who remember the heated rivalry between the Panthers and the Eagles.

Georgia Southern second-year coach Charlton Young was named TAAC Tournament MVP when the Eagles won the 1992 title in Hanner Fieldhouse, and even he doesn’t remember all of the matchups with the Panthers.

Georgia State radio voice Dave Cohen saw it all, too.

"Every time I see him he talks about those days," Young said about Cohen, who is still the play-by-play voice of the Panthers. "He was there when I was a freshman. He reminded me about it last year, I had forgotten, but my first game at Georgia Southern [against Georgia State in 1990] I hit one with no time on the clock to win it."

The two teams, which renewed the rivalry in Atlanta last season for the first time since 1997, will meet today in Hanner for the first time in over a decade.

Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

It will be only the second Division I opponent at home this season for the Eagles (3-9), who fell 68-58 to South Alabama on Saturday.

The Eagles, who have six freshmen and only three returning players in the rotation, led USA 39-26 at the half.

"The good news was we came out against South Alabama and we cared about defense," said Young. "The first half was great, but again our young team showed its head."

The road schedule has been the opposite from the home schedule, as GSU has focused on playing several high-major teams from the Big East and the Big XII.

"You have the younger brother who’s 10 and the older brother who’s 14," Young said. "He fights against him all the time and when he runs into another 10-year-old at the park, he’s ready to bump heads a little bit because he’s used to going against the 14-year-old. It’s the same analogy with the schedule."

The Eagles, without senior Rory Spencer and sophomore Cameron Baskerville, fell on the road to Charleston, 92-84, in the second Southern Conference game of the season.

"I think we played well on the road against Charleston with limited people because we had just gotten done battling Texas Tech and battling South Florida," said Young. "It helps, if you can keep your confidence."

The Eagles are run at the point by junior Ben Drayton and freshman Jelani Hewitt, and Young is hoping to rely on another freshman, Eric Ferguson, to help distribute the ball.

He plays both shooting guard and forward.

"We bounce him around at both spots and he’s a guy who can spread it around," said Young about Ferguson. "He has to stop trying to make the great play all the time, because the turnover numbers are high. He’ll get better as he goes on."

Georgia State (4-4) enters the game off a 76-67 win over Florida A&M on Saturday.

The Panthers are led in scoring by Brandon McGee, who averages 8.8 points per game. Drayton averages 14.7 to lead the Eagles.


Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.