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GS Ladies open Sun Belt play with win over Arkansas State
GS Basketball
Georgia Southern's Lydia Freeman, top, gains the upper hand on a rebound against Arkansas State's Lauryn Pendleton during Thursday's game at Hanner Fieldhouse. - photo by By SCOTT BRYANT/staff

The Georgia Southern women found out earlier this week their Sun Belt road opener with Arkansas Little Rock on Jan. 1 was cancelled due to COVID issues with the Trojans. The Eagles opened Sun Belt play Thursday at home against Arkansas State and despite having their own health issues that limited their numbers, the Eagles were able to hold off a late charge and win 84-75.

“We have preached a next woman up mentality and we were forced to see how that worked here today,” said coach Anita Howard. “I was pleased at how we respond at it was truly a team win out here today. I thought our guards did their job and the post players really stepped up with us down a few players.”

The Eagles were without a couple of their leading scorers in Terren Ward and Eden Johnson who combine for over 21 points per game and 12 rebounds per contest. Tuesday the Eagles had a few players step up in their absence including Mya Burns who led four Georgia Southern players in double figures with 23 points and five rebounds. 

“She is our version of Kevin Durant,” said Howard. “She has put us on her back with players like Terren and Eden out she has really carried the load. She hit a clutch three pointer for us and got a few huge rebounds for us. That is what big-time players do when you need them to come through.”

The two teams came out showing a little rust as they went over three minutes until they scored the first points of the game. Trailing 8-7 the Eagles went on a 6-0 run capped by a Daeja Holmes layup to take a 14-8 lead and would never trail again in the contest.

The first half saw the Eagles lead by as many as six points, but the Red Wolves battled back to cut the lead to one at 34-33 before the Eagles pulled back, and despite outsourcing Georgia Southern 22-21 in the second quarter the Eagle went into halftime up 42-37 at the half.

The Eagles looked like they may run away in the third quarter as they extended their lead to 11 on a Ja’nya Love-Hill jumper with :34 left in the third and the Eagles took a 67-56 lead entering the fourth quarter,

The Red Wolves again battled back cutting the lead to two at 71-69 with just under three minutes to play. A wild sequence ensued as a foul and then a technical foul was called on the Red Wolves Trinitee Jackson who subsequently fouled out. The Wolves then cut the lead to 73-72 with just under two minutes to play on a three pointer by Keya Patton, but he Eagles then closed the game on an 11-3 run which was aided by a three pointer by Burns to push the lead back to four.

“That sequence was big for us,” said Howard. “We kept our cool when they got hit with that technical foul. We got that three from Mya and were able to make some free throws down the stretch.”

Burns led all scorers with 23 points, while Love-Hill had 13 points and four assists. Simone James chipped in with 10 points, seven rebounds and four steals and Thaniya Marks added 10 points and six rebounds. 

The Eagles are 10-3 which marks the first time the Eagles have ever won 10 games before Jan 1 in school history and the 10-3 mark is the best overall start since the 1990-91 season. Howard is 2-1 in Sun Belt openers while the previous coaches at Georgia Southern combined to go 0-6. 

Georgia Southern will now have a little longer to wait for their next game as the cancelled game with Little Rock Saturday means their next game will be next Thursday at Coastal Carolina.

“We’d love to be playing Saturday but my momma always said to make lemonade out of lemons,” said Howard. “We could have been sitting here for a week after a loss instead we got a win and now we have some extra time to get ready for Coastal Carolina.”