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Eagles continue tough road stretch
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    The gauntlet that is January continues for the Georgia Southern men’s basketball team tonight as the Eagles begin a two-game Southern Conference road swing against Elon and Appalachian State — two of the North Division’s top teams.    
    Seven of Georgia Southern’s 10 games this month are away from the comforts of Hanner Fieldhouse, and the Eagles (11-5, 4-2) are searching for their first conference win on the road.
    “I keep continuing to stress that we’ve got to weather the storm of January,” GSU coach Jeff Price said this week. “There’s no sport in the nation where the home court is more prevalent than college basketball. That’s just the way it is. You can look at the stats — it’s extremely hard to win on the road in college basketball mainly because of atmosphere. You are just out of your realm of things somewhat and out of your routine. The home team usually just plays better. When you go on the road, you’re down at least 10 points to start with.”
    But road trips can be invigorating, especially for GSU sophomore guard Antoine Johnson, who relishes competing away from home.
    “I love playing on the road — the atmosphere, everybody talking about you, booing you,” he said. “It gets me to play better and gets more intensity out of me.”
    “Road trips build camaraderie,” freshman guard Willie Powers said. “They bring us together more as a family with us being by ourselves with not as many fans in hostile environments. I think if we stay together and play hard, we should be pretty good these next two games.”
    Tonight at 7, the Eagles will be up against a Phoenix team that started 4-1 in league play but has dropped five of its last seven games, most recently a narrow two-point loss at home to Davidson in which the Wildcats scored the final eight points to sneak away with the win.
    Elon (7-9, 5-3) rebounded with a road victory at Furman last Saturday and is currently in third place in the North, behind Chattanooga and Appalachian State. The Eagles, second in the South Division behind Davidson, visit Appalachian Saturday.
    “(Elon is) a good team, and their starting five is a very experienced,” Price said. “They play well together, tempo the game, run a motion offense and they’re hard to guard. We’ve always had really close games with them, so I don’t expect this one to be any different.”
    The Phoenix are led by junior big man Ola Atoyebi, the team-leader in scoring (14.3 points per game) and rebounding (7.0 rpg).
    “He’s really improved over the last year,” Price said. “He’s a good rebounder, and he’s gotten to where he can score really well inside. He’s become pretty hard to handle down there. Obviously we are going to have to play pretty well to have a chance. Hopefully we’ll go in with some confidence and find a way to get those games.”
    The Eagles’ confidence had a setback after GSU dropped games at Davidson and UNC Greensboro to start the New Year, but a huge home win over the College of Charleston in overtime and a convincing victory over a young Citadel team on the road helped Georgia Southern bounce back.
    “I think we got the monkey off our back a little bit against Charleston, and I think that carried over to The Citadel,” Price said. “Hopefully we got our confidence back to get back on that streak. It’s tough to gain momentum when you are playing so many road games. I try not to tell our players that, but I understand it. It’s hard to continue to go on the road and win, but hopefully we can get some more momentum going.”

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