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Eagles win thriller over Furman
Grahams shot block gives GSU win in front of raucous home crowd
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    In most cases, January is a little early to be throwing around the term “must-win.”
    But after a disappointing 0-2 start in league play, Georgia Southern knew it desperately needed a victory on Saturday with Southern Conference rival Furman in the house. The Paladins — one of very few teams to taste success at Hanner Fieldhouse in recent years — presented a dangerous challenge as the conference’s top 3-point shooting team and one of the most experienced groups in the league.
    None of that deterred Georgia Southern, which shot a season high 58.3 percent (28 of 48) from the field and out-rebounded the visitors by 16 to scratch out its first league triumph, a 72-70 decision over the Paladins.
    “This was a big win, something that can really turn this year around,” said senior Donte Gennie, who broke the 1,000-point mark for his career and was one of four Eagles in double figures with 15 points. “Hopefully we can just keep it up from here.”
    Furman had two final attempts in the last three seconds of the game, the first an Eric Webb jumper, which was blocked by Louis Graham. The loose ball ricocheted into hands of Gerad Punch, whose 10-footer clanked off the rim, igniting GSU’s post-game celebration.
    First-year Furman coach Jeff Jackson said his team got the shots it wanted.
    “We actually ended up getting two shots that were probably decent looks,” he said.
    With the Eagles (8-6, 1-2) down 69-67 and 2:38 to play, Jimmy Tobias put back his own miss to knot the game. A minute and a half later, Tobias grabbed his own offensive rebound again, this time hitting an off-balance floater to put the home team ahead for good. He finished with a season-high nine rebounds and 11 points.
    Graham, the SoCon’s second-leading rebounder, had a game-high 20 points, but was limited to four boards — two of which couldn’t have been more crucial for the Eagles. He grabbed the first on a missed Robby Bostain jumper with 23 seconds to go and the second on Stanley Jones’ errant free throw with 14 ticks left on the clock.
    “I said in my mind, ‘Those are my rebounds,’” Graham said. “I was going to get it, and I just went up there and grabbed it.”
    Graham was 9-for-11 from the field and is 19-for-23 in the last two contests.
    “Louis has been tremendous,” GSU coach Jeff Price said. “Really it just tells you that he needs to get more shots, but it’s easier said than done because defenses are really keying on him. He has just been so effective.”
    The Eagles, thankful the student body is beginning to trickle back into town from the holiday break, credited the home crowd of 2,692 for giving them a much-needed boost.
    “They contributed to the energy in the building and gave us confidence that we can play with teams in this league,” Graham said. “You don’t want to go 0-3 in the league. It’s very difficult to recover from 0-3.”
    Dwayne Foreman added 12 for the Eagles, who secured 14 offensive boards while out-rebounding the Paladins 34-18. Furman (7-7, 1-2) also placed four in double-digits, led by Moussa Diagne’s 17.
    Gennie scored his 1000th career point on a layup at the 15:47 mark in the second half.
    “It’s a great honor to join the 1,000 point club at Georgia Southern along with Julius Jenkins, Elton (Nesbit), Terry (Williams), Jean (Francois) and people like that,” he said.
    Georgia Southern led most of the first half, using a 16-4 run to garner its largest edge of the game, a 10-point advantage after Antoine Johnson sunk a pair of free throws 4:48 before the half. Diagne hit two free throws to cut GSU’s lead to 44-40 at the break, and the Eagles hit a season-best 65.4 percent (17 of 26) from the field in the first 20 minutes.
    “It was good to see us come out and shoot the ball well,” Price said. “When you do that, your intensity picks up.”
    Georgia Southern hosts Wofford Monday at 7:30 p.m.

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