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Eagles host Mercer in home opener
Price hoping for big crowd
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    Making defensive stops and winning close games. That’s what Georgia Southern’s men’s basketball coach Jeff Price likes to see early in the year, and so far the Eagles are doing both.
    They’re off to a 4-1 (1-0 Southern Conference) start and will look to stretch their winning streak to five games in tonight’s home opener against Mercer. Tip-off is 7:30 p.m. at Hanner Fieldhouse.
    “Winning games on the defensive side and the ability to win the close ones is something that we couldn’t do last year, so that’s been encouraging,” Price said. “We’re deeper up front, longer and more athletic, and I think it creates some problems with people going to the basket.”
    Price never intended to gauge this year’s team from its season opening loss at Florida State, instead preferring to see how they performed in the Glenn Wilkes Classic tournament a week later. The Eagles were impressive, knocking off Cleveland State, UAB and Stetson in three straight games. The Cleveland State and UAB wins were both decided by two points.
    “I thought we showed a lot of character,” Price said. “I wouldn’t say I was surprised, but I was certainly pleased. We are winning close games that we could have easily lost. We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
    The Eagles followed the solid tournament with a 68-63 win at Furman in their Southern Conference opener last Friday. Though they are still working to get their offense where they want it, experienced starting players Louis Graham, Matt Fields and Dwayne Foreman have been instrumental in the solid defensive effort. GSU’s last three opponents were held below 63 points.
    “We’ve been really balanced,” Price said. “It’s a long season, but we are showing signs of doing things right now that good teams do — have good balance on the offensive end, defending very well and rebounding well. Those are things you have to do to win games, and it’s a good sign early in the season that we are doing it.”
    Georgia Southern will be up against a Mercer team quite possibly much better than its 1-4 record. The Bears, of the Atlantic Sun Conference, opened the year with a win at Southern California before falling to Alabama, Harvard, Boston College and Loyola Marymount.
    Mercer brings a high-scoring offense to Statesboro with the Bears putting up 80 points a game behind five players averaging in double figures. The Eagles will keep close tabs on explosive guards James Florence and Mark Hall.
    “I think it’s the best Mercer team I’ve seen in a long time,” Price said. “You can’t even look at their record. They are real explosive offensively. They are very quick at guard, and they’re as athletic as I’ve seen them. With the people they played, they’re not going to be real intimidated by playing Georgia Southern, and we need to understand that.”
    Tonight’s matchup is the beginning of a three-game homestand for the Eagles, who host Appalachian State Saturday at 3 p.m.
    “It’ll definitely be good to get back in Hanner, and hopefully we’ll have a good crowd,” Price said. “We played our first five away from home, so it’s time we had a little homestand. We need to make good on it and hopefully have a lot of people out there watching us.”