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Eagles throwdown on Fort Valley State
Win sets up showdown with Florida
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Georgia Southern's Anthony Marshall finishes a fast break with authority near the end of the first half Friday against Fort Valley State at Hanner Fieldhouse. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
    Before Fort Valley State came to town, it’d been 57 years since Georgia Southern had won seven straight games before the New Year.
    The Eagles shattered that mark Monday, hammering the Division II Wildcats 93-73 at Hanner Fieldhouse to tie the program’s best start since 1991.
    Georgia Southern (7-1) will look to carry the momentum into Saturday when the Eagles face two-time defending national champion Florida in Jacksonville, Fla., at 3 p.m.
    “If we go in there with some confidence Saturday, we might have a chance to win this thing,” GSU coach Jeff Price said. “It’s good to have them on a neutral floor, but obviously they are a high, high major program. We are going to have to play well to have a chance.”
    On Monday, the Eagles were rusty from an eight-day layoff for final exams and relied on their bench to help them recover from a slow start. The Wildcats (1-3) hung around the majority of the first half, using an early 10-0 run to go up 21-15. Georgia Southern then began pulling away late in the opening period thanks to junior Trumaine Pearson, who nailed consecutive baskets to ignite the home team.
    “He came in and gave us tremendous minutes,” said senior Louis Graham, who led three Eagles in double figures with 16 points. “The bench pretty much brought life to the game. The starters were in the twilight zone a little bit, but after the first half the starters woke up.”
    Pearson’s shots were the start of a late first-half surge by the Eagles, who took their first double-digit lead on a Willie Powers’ 3-pointer less than two minutes before the break. Anthony Marshall followed with a rim-rattling dunk — his second during an 18-4 outburst that gave GSU a 50-36 edge at the half.
    “We needed something like that to bring the intensity out so we would play hard,” Antoine Johnson said of the run, which included a huge dunk from the sophomore.
    Johnson finished with a career-high 14 points, while Powers added 15 and Matt Fields grabbed a team-high nine rebounds. Martrez Scott led three Wildcats in double digits with a game-high 18 points.
    Georgia Southern carried its momentum into the second half, going up by 20 with 14:30 to play after Julian Allen and Powers hit back-to-back 3s and Pearson nailed a pair of free throws. The Eagles later rattled off 14 unanswered points, including six straight by Graham and eight in a row from Johnson, to stretch their lead to 30. GSU emptied its bench with about eight minutes to go.
    “I thought we looked like we hadn’t played in (eight) days, and I was concerned with that,” Price said. “Anytime you’ve got great momentum going, you’ve won six in a row and have to take (eight) days off, it’s going to show. We just didn’t play real hard to start the game, but we kind of woke up.”

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