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Eagles keep on fighting
GSU takes on rival Paladins
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Furman's Bryson Barnes, left, and Georgia Southern's Eric Ferguson get tangled up on a rebound but Eagle forward Marvin Baynham, left, gets called for an over-the-back foul during first half action at Hanner Fieldhouse January 15. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

As the regular season starts winding down and Georgia Southern continues searching for its first Southern Conference win, fatigue has been an issue.

Leading scorer Ben Drayton averages 37 minutes per game, and four of the team’s five freshmen average at least 20 minutes per game.

And it isn’t just the players getting worn down due to the team’s eight-man roster.

"My body is killing me," said second-year coach Charlton Young. "Myself, coach [Chris] Kreider, coach [Steve]Smith, we have to practice because there’s not enough bodies."

Drayton averages 15.8 points per game for the Eagles (4-21, 0-12 SoCon), and Young looks toward him — one of the team’s two upper classmen — to become the coach on the court the Eagles lost with the preseason injury to point guard Willie Powers.

"It’s a confidence issue now," said Young about Drayton. "He’s scored a lot of points, but he’s lost a lot of games. It’s not his fault, and I have a lot of respect for the young man because he’s been through a lot here."

The Furman Paladins (17-7, 9-4) have their closer. Senior forward Amu Saaka averages 17.1 points per game and a team-best 6.3 rebounds, shoots 3-pointers and knocks down free throws at an 87.3-percent clip.

"I think Amu Saaka is flat-out the best player in our league — the best NBA prospect — a guy that’s going to play the game for money once he leaves our league and be successful," said Young, whose Eagles face UF today at 7 p.m. in Greenville, S.C. "I’m excited to see, with us playing a little slower than we were the last time, how that works."

Saaka commands enough respect on the offensive side of the ball to open things up for double-digit scorers Noah States and Jordan Miller, and the Paladins average 38.5 percent from 3-point range.

"They really shoot the ball," Young said, "and we’re going to go in with a little more respect for them at the 3-point line. What’s different between now and the last time is that they’ve realized that Saaka has to have 14, 18 shots a game, and he’s getting the ball more. That makes the game easier for everyone else."

The Eagles will be a man short as they face Furman. Freshman guard Tre Bussey has been suspended for two games for "violation of team protocol." He will travel with the team but will not play tonight or in Saturday’s game at Wofford.

Sophomore walkon Zuri James (4.6 ppg) is expected to start in Bussey’s place. It will be the ninth start of the season for James.


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