By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Eagles have momentum, confidence as Florida game nears
121007 BKC GSU 238
Georgia Southern guard Antoine Johnson goes up for a one-handed slam over a Fort Valley State defender Monday night at Hanner Fieldhouse during GSU’s seventh straight win. The Eagles are full of momentum as they head to Jacksonville, Fla., to face the two-time defending National Champion Florida Gators on Saturday.
    There’s been plenty of chatter about the Florida Gators being down this year.
    The two-time defending national champions lost all five starters from a year ago, are currently unranked and haven’t really proven themselves yet.
    Georgia Southern coach Jeff Price doesn’t buy into all that jabber.
    “Everybody talks about they are young and aren’t the same team, but their young is first-team McDonald All-American young,” said Price, whose squad faces the Gators Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla. “Their talent level is extremely high.”
    After a day off Tuesday, the Eagles went back to work early Wednesday morning, beginning preparations for the 3 p.m. matchup with Florida, which will be televised by SportSouth.
    Winners of seven straight, Georgia Southern (7-1) is off to its best start since 1991, its only loss coming in the season opener to Florida State. The Seminoles are also the only team that’s topped the Gators, who are 9-1 on the year.
    “We can get something accomplished here in these next two days,” said GSU senior forward Louis Graham, the team’s leading scorer (14.9) and rebounder (8.1). “We are going in with the attitude that we can win. If we do the same things we’ve been doing for the past seven games — rebound, play defense and play as a team — we’ll be fine.”
    The Eagles fully understand the magnitude of possibly upsetting the reigning champs, but Price and his staff are careful not to hype up the game too much.
    “I think the more we hype it, the harder it is for our players to play,” Price said. “So we’re just trying to keep low key and get better at what we do every day. It’s a cliché, but you just approach it as another game even though in our minds we know it is a great opportunity for us.”
    Georgia Southern is hoping it shook off any rust lingering from an eight-day layoff during Monday night’s hammering of Division II’s Fort Valley State. Along with quickly integrating newcomers and solid defense, the Eagles have shown balance offensively with talented players both inside and out.
    Behind Graham, freshman guard Willie Powers is the team’s second-leading scorer with 13.6 points a game, while senior Dwayne Foreman is averaging 9.9 a night.
    Playing on a neutral floor Saturday could play to the Eagles’ advantage, particularly since Gators have played nine of their 10 games in the comforts of home.
    “It might help a little bit, but you’ve still got to come ready to play,” Graham said. “As a team we’ve got to come together collectively. It’s not likely we’ll come in and blow them away by 20 points, but if we stick to our game plan and worry about what we do best, we’ll be fine.”
    The matchup is particularly intriguing for six Georgia Southern players from the state of Florida, including Powers, who hails from Gainesville, home of the Gators.
    “We feel confident that if we go in and do what we need to do we can win this game,” Powers said.

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