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Eagles massacre Mocs
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Georgia Southern's Dwayne Foreman signals for possession after wrestling Chattanooga's Stephen McClellan for a jump ball in the second half of Saturday's game at Hanner Fieldhouse. The Eagles won 81-61 in a key Southern Conference game. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
    It was supposed to be a close one.
    Two of the Southern Conference’s best teams met in Hanner Fieldhouse Saturday night with Georgia Southern hungry for payback from a narrow loss in a shootout at Chattanooga just nine days earlier.
Eagle coach Jeff Price’s pre-game talks implored the importance defense, and the GSU was obviously eager to snap its slow-start tendencies.
    Things couldn’t have gone much better for the Eagles, whose outstanding defensive effort paid off in a dominating 81-61 conference win. After giving up just six first-half field goals, GSU held the Mocs without a basket for the first 9:38 of the second period. Georgia Southern fed off forcing 27 turnovers and 17 steals – both season highs.
    “We’re off until (Thursday), so we decided to leave everything on the floor,” said GSU senior Louis Graham, whose 17 points led four Eagles in double figures. “One thing about playing defense is if you’re playing defense well, it’s fun.”
    Both teams started slow offensively, but GSU stayed on top thanks to an early barrage of 3-pointers. The Eagles entered the game averaging six 3s an outing and sank that many in the first nine minutes Saturday. GSU hit 11 3s for the game.
    Ahead 13-12 early, Georgia Southern unleashed a 17-5 run to go up by 13 on a Dwayne Foreman free throw 6:30 before the half. The Mocs connected on just 6 of 21 (28.6 percent) shots in the first 20 minutes, and GSU led 36-29 at the break.
    “The defensive mentality we had coming into the second half was – we want more,” Graham said. “We smelled blood, and we just attacked it like piranhas and sharks do. We just went after it and kept pushing.”
Georgia Southern opened the second half with a 26-4 bang and took a 29-point lead - its largest of the night - after an Anthony Marshall 3 with 10:37 remaining. From there, Chattanooga never got closer than 18.
    "I stressed so much that the first five minutes of each half were going to be absolutely vital,” Price said. “That was one of the best things to see – us have a good first five and an unbelievable first five of the second half.”
    Georgia Southern (17-8, 10-5) won for the fifth time in six games and remains in second place in the South Division. Chattanooga (15-10, 10-5) came to Statesboro leading the North Division but got leapfrogged by Appalachian State, which regained first place with a win at The Citadel.
    The Eagles’ defensive stand included shutting out UTC senior guard Kevin Bridgewaters, who put up 24 points against GSU nine days ago. Bridgewaters was limited by foul trouble and was slowed after rolling an ankle during shoot-around.
    “We are out of synch, out of whack” UTC coach John Shulman said. “We’ve got chemistry issues. I don’t know if (GSU) could have played better. It’s amazing the energy and the shots they can make in (Hanner).”
    Marshal added 16 points for the Eagles, Willie Powers put up 15 and Matthew Fields scored 10. Nicchaeus Doaks (17) and Stephen McDowell (15) led UTC in scoring.
    The Eagles travel to Wofford Thursday and return home to host Elon Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
   Notes: The game was the fifth in 10 days for the Mocs…Georgia Southern’s only two Walter Payton Award winners, Adrian Peterson and Jayson Foster, were on hand for the game…An announced crowd of 2,418 watched the win. “I want to encourage people to keep coming out and watching us,” Price said. “This is a great home court. We’ve got an exciting team, and we are playing well right now. Come out and see us next weekend.”…All of Graham’s points came in the second half.

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