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Eagles hold off Wofford, improve to 2-2 in SoCon
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GSU’s Donte Gennie blows by Wofford defender Shance Nichols for two of his 19 first-half points during Monday night’s game.
    Jeff Price knew it wouldn’t be easy.
    Though the Wofford Terriers came to Statesboro having lost nine of their last 10 games, they boasted a trio of athletic guards and a strong offensive attack. And just as the Georgia Southern coach predicted, his Eagles had to scratch and claw their way to a second straight Southern Conference victory, an 83-78 win Monday at Hanner Fieldhouse.
    Senior guard Donte Gennie carried the Eagles (9-6, 2-2) much of the game, setting a new career high with 28 points on 10 of 14 shooting.
    “Donte played like an all-conference senior player, and that’s how we need him to play,” Price said.
    Four others also reached double figures for Georgia Southern, including Dwayne Foreman (14), Louis Graham (11), Jimmy Tobias (11) and Diogo Salazar, who had a career-best 10 off the bench.
    Free throws and rebounds lifted the Eagles to their third win in a row as GSU hit a season-high 29 free throws on 41 trips to the line. For the second straight game, GSU dominated the boards, out-rebounding the Terriers (5-11, 0-5) 47-28. The Eagles grabbed 16 on the offensive end.
    “Rebounding and defense wins games,” said Graham, whose 12 boards gave him his seventh double-double this year. “Tonight we rebounded well, but we didn’t play defense like we should have. As we get deeper into the conference, we are going to have to learn to play defense for 40 minutes. Tonight we played defense for a half, and that’s not going to cut it.”
    GSU’s defensive struggles were glaring as the Eagles were unable to contain Wofford guard Eric Marshall, who was 11-for-14 from the field and 8-for-8 from the charity stripe for a career-high 33 before fouling out with 17.5 seconds remaining. Wofford shot 45 percent from the field for the game, slightly better than GSU’s 44.6.
    “We got stops where we had to, but our defense isn’t where it needs to be,” Price said. “It’s just like plugging leaks. We weren’t scoring well, but now we’re not defending well. We’ve got to go back, look at our defense and do a better job of getting stops.”
    Wofford went with a small lineup, giving the Eagles no choice but to go with five guards after Graham got into foul trouble early.
    “That’s the first time I’ve ever done that, and they literally forced us to do that,” Price said.
    Georgia Southern led the entire second half, but Wofford was never far behind, tying the game once on a pair of Marshall free throws with 12:10 to go. Wofford pulled within one six minutes later on Marshall’s turn-around jumper, but GSU used a 7-0 run to push its advantage to eight. Wofford didn’t fold, cutting the Eagle lead to three with 24 seconds to go before Jimmy Tobias and Blake Thompson each hit a free throw to provide the final margin.
    “It was a very scrappy game, neither team defended very well,” Gennie said. “We did a poor job of on-the-ball defending, but it was a great win for our program.”
    The Eagles picked up the victory in front of an announced crowd of 2,132, a number likely hurt by the BCS National Championship game, which was also played Monday night.
    Georgia Southern took a 49-40 lead into the locker room after Gennie hit a 3 from the left wing. In the first 20 minutes, he was 7-for-10 from the field and 3-for-4 on free throws for 19 points, the most by an Eagle in a half this season.
    Georgia Southern begins a three-game road trip Wednesday at Chattanooga. Game time is 7 p.m.

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